—> NY Daily News (4/4/14): Cabbies’ $1.4M Health Care, Disability Fund Remains Frozen by City Lawyers
A long-sought health care and disability fund for yellow taxi drivers has amassed $1.4 million – but cabbies who are injured or ill still can’t get a dime from it.
In 2012, the Taxi & Limousine Commission voted to create a fund to provide financial assistance to drivers who must buy their own health insurance and lack many of the benefits that employers traditionally provide workers.
But the agency didn’t pick a program administrator until this past September, more than one year after the vote. While cabbies have been contributing to the fund since October, and former TLC Chairman David Yassky signed a contract with the administrator on Dec. 31, city lawyers have not green-lighted the arrangement.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “Everyday, we see drivers whose lives we know would be better if the fund was up and running.”
Drivers like Mushtaq Ahmed, 57, who injured his neck and spine when he fell down a flight of stairs while off-duty in mid-March. A father of six, Ahmed has been unable to work since his tumble, and it could be several more weeks before doctors say the cabbie can get back behind the wheel.
“I have no income – nothing,” Ahmed said. “I worry about rent and food . . . everything.”
Ahmed leases a cab from another driver who owns a taxi and a yellow-cab medallion. Owner-drivers are not required by state law to provide disability coverage.
The fund, if authorized to distribute financial assistance, would provide Ahmed with $300 to $350 a week, Desai said. Ahmed also may be eligible to obtain weekly payments from a state Workers Compensation Board fund, but it would be very little, less than $200 a week, Desai said.
The TLC last year selected a nonprofit offshoot of the Taxi Workers Alliance to administer the fund.
Meera Joshi, a former TLC lawyer who is on track to become the city’s next taxi chief, said the city Law Department has concerns related to pending lawsuits that challenge the agency’s authority to establish a benefits fund, and the agency’s choice for administrator. Since October, cabbies have had to contribute 6 cents per fare to the fund.
Joshi, who helped craft the contract while she was the TLC’s top lawyer, said the de Blasio administration is committed to getting the benefits program functioning. She could not, however, estimate how much longer drivers would have to wait.
“The law department has to feel comfortable with moving to the next step,” Joshi said Thursday during a confirmation hearing before the City Council’s committee on rules, privileges and elections.
Joshi is the vice president of campus safety at NYU. She spent three years at the TLC as deputy commissioner of legal affairs and general counsel. She previously held high-level posts at the city Civilian Complaint Review Board and Department of Investigation.
(Click here to read the article online)