Policy Proposal Demands NYS Help Cabbies Amid The Pandemic

Policy Proposal Demands NYS Help Cabbies Amid The Pandemic
A yellow cab driver in Brooklyn. (Photo via Avery Leigh White)

BROOKLYN – State Senator Julia Salazar from Brooklyn, and Zohran Kwame Mamdani, a candidate running for Assembly in Queens are stepping up to help the city’s cab drivers who have been hard hit by the pandemic.

Cabbies, whether driving the yellow cabs or working for rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, are usually classified as independent contractors, and typically do not qualify for benefits like health insurance and unemployment. Many cabbies are now unemployed, but for those who are still working, work is dangerous. They are constantly exposed to people who may be sick with the coronavirus, sometimes serving as an alternative to ambulance services, bringing people to their medical appointments and other essential businesses. You can read more about a cabbie’s struggle during the coronavirus here.

Salazar, who represents the 18th State Senate District that includes Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg, as well as parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, and East New York, put out a policy proposal with Mamdani — whom she just endorsed in his race to represent the 36th Assembly District in Queens.

“Many rideshare drivers report spending considerable time and money sanitizing their vehicles between passengers without reimbursement from their companies, further cutting into their wages. In the event rideshare drivers do contract COVID-19, employers typically only grant paid sick leave if drivers test positive for it. But because testing is unavailable to all but the most severe cases, most have been unable to access paid sick leave. As genuine independent contractors, traditional taxi drivers also lack such protections,” Salazar and Mamdani write. The issues of cabbies are not being heard, and they want to change that.

Salazar and Mamdani are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic leadership to enact the following measures for rideshare drivers:

  1. Direct the Department of Labor via executive order to classify rideshare drivers as employees for purposes of unemployment insurance.
  2. Immediately improve New York’s unemployment insurance processing system.
  3. Adopt the “ABC test” as the standard for employment classification across all areas of employment law via legislation.
  4. Establish a rideshare taskforce with majority representation from drivers and organized labor to make recommendations specific to the rideshare industry.

For cab drivers:

  1. Cancel medallion mortgage payments during the period of the crisis.
  2. Suspend the congestion pricing surcharge.
  3. Allow drivers to keep the $2.80/ride in other surcharges during the period of the crisis.
  4. Purchase all outstanding debt on taxi medallions. For drivers who’ve already made at least $150,000 in payments, cancel the balance. For drivers who’ve made payments of less than that amount, cancel any balance above $150,000.

“New York City has some of the largest Muslim and South Asian communities in the country, but we’ve been largely excluded from its politics. Only two Muslims have ever served in the state legislature, and no one of South Asian descent has ever been elected to any office in the city. And when we’re not in the room when the policies that impact us are being made, there’s a real risk that those policies won’t be designed in ways that best serve our needs – if they even come up at all,” Mamdani told Bklyner.

“That’s why representation means so much more than just seeing people who look like us in the newspaper. It means people who know what our communities need have the power to help us address those needs. Every day I phone-bank Muslim and South Asian voters in our district, and every day I speak to drivers who’ve lost nearly all their work and are struggling just to put food on the table,” he continued. “How would someone who doesn’t speak to these voters every day know how bad this crisis has gotten? These are bread-and-butter issues for so many in our district, and they deserve representatives who don’t just fight for them, but who know there’s a fight going on to begin with.”