New York has been one of the states most affected by the pandemic, both in terms of deaths and the increase in unemployment. /File
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It has been a difficult year for New Yorkers. Our state was one of the most affected by the pandemic, both in terms of deaths and the increase in unemployment.
As a father of 4 daughters and an immigrant from the Dominican Republic where he was also a taxi driver, being a part of Lyft for the last five years has allowed me to earn more money when I needed it most.
I never expected this, but driving has also been a really rewarding experience because of who I have met in this city and the role I have played in helping people. But, the Covid also hit me very hard and I was without work for five months. Fortunately, I received unemployment insurance from the state and health insurance from TLC, and my daughters also helped put food on the table — like many families the money from work was not enough.
Lyft hasn’t made it easy, too. The way drivers are paid can be so confusing that I never know how much I am going to earn in one night and the pay rates are constantly changing.
I have also heard that trips are canceled for things beyond the control of drivers, such as being too late due to traffic, or even just a passenger in a bad mood. Fortunately, in New York we have the Independent Drivers Union to help us appeal those decisions, but it can be a very difficult process. Drivers need a way to tell companies what we think and what we need.
I recently saw that legislators in Albany are considering a new bill that would give drivers new benefits like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, and also give us the ability to organize and make businesses hear our voice. California drivers already have many of these benefits, and there’s no reason New York drivers shouldn’t deserve the same.
For years, I’ve heard politicians talk about the problems of gig work – the fact that we don’t earn enough or don’t have enough protections. But they never offer any solutions other than trying to become traditional employees. What they don’t understand is that I don’t want to be a traditional worker, because then I will have to follow a set schedule and I would lose all my independence. The flexibility of setting the days that I work more or less is very important to me. For example, on Tuesdays I prefer to be home in the afternoons, to spend time with my family.
Many workers in New York are still struggling due to lost jobs and shifts, and the gig economy will be more important than ever to us as the economy begins to reopen. It’s a time when we should take action to protect gig workers and improve our work. Politicians in Albany finally have a chance to do just that, to give gig workers benefits, a seat at the negotiating table, and the support we need.
-Luis Cruz is a Lyft driver and a resident of District 13