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Rediff.com  » News » NY taxi drivers to receive $75,0000 in restitution

NY taxi drivers to receive $75,0000 in restitution

December 26, 2013 19:55 IST

NY taxi drivers to receive $75,0000 in restitution

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In a hard fought case, championed by taxi union leader Bhairavi Desai, fleet taxicab owner Evgeny ‘Gene’ Freidman and four other companies -- owned in part by Freidman, signed an agreement last week to pay $746,406 in restitution to drivers who were charged rates higher than the legally permissible amounts to lease cabs and medallions.

Freidman oversees one of the five largest fleets in New York City. Most of his over 2,000 drivers are from the Indian subcontinent.

“Cab drivers are not only an international symbol of New York City they are also among the hardest-working New Yorkers,” said Attorney General Eric T Schneiderman in a statement.

The agreement “is the first major step in enforcing lease cap rules that protect workers and their already modest take-home pay.”

Desai has led the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, for over a decade.

“Imagine having a job you can’t do without and a boss who stole from your paycheck every week,” she said.

“After decades of overcharges, which left drivers impoverished and demoralized, this enforcement action by the attorney general’s office gives us the first level of economic protection against a brutal leasing system where drivers labor long grueling hours without guaranteed income, only fixed expenses.”

The agreement, which also sounds a warning to other erring cab owners, Desai said “Sends a signal to the industry that compliance will be enforced, and just as resoundingly, it sends a signal to drivers that we are second-class citizens no more.”

Desai’s union has had issues with the Taxi and Limo Commission, but this time, the TLC is on her side.

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Image: Most of the 13,000 taxi drivers in the city lease medallions, and often vehicles as well, on a daily or weekly basis
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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David Yassky, commissioner, TLC, issued a statement soon after the settlement was reached. “It is unconscionable to cheat hardworking taxi drivers out of their earnings, which aren’t very much to begin with,” he said.

The Freidman companies as agents for medallion owners, control over 880 medallions out of the total 13,231 medallions in New York City. A yellow cab driver must have a taxi with a medallion.

The cost of a medallion for a yellow cab is forbiddingly high and in a recent medallion auction a pair of medallions fetched over $2.5 million last month.

Most of the 13,000 taxi drivers in the city lease medallions, and often vehicles as well, on a daily or weekly basis. New York taxicab drivers are generally not employees and are therefore usually not covered by minimum wage, overtime, or many other labor laws, Desai pointed out.

Taxicab drivers, she has said, earned income from fares collected over the course of a shift, minus the amounts they must pay to medallion owners or agents for leases and add-on fees.

Overcharges by owners or agents chisel away at drivers’ limited income. Unlike employees covered by the labor law, taxi drivers do not receive any overtime pay.

Taking into account the extensive weekly hours commonly spent driving, taxicab drivers’ pay often barely reaches the rate that would be required for a minimum wage employee with the same working schedule, per TLC.


Image: New York Taxi Workers Alliance leader Bhairavi Desai
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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