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New York City's 'Black Car' Drivers Are Independent Contractors

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

In New York City, the color of your car matters if you drive a taxi.

Yellow cars can pick up passengers anywhere and anytime they hail you. Green cars can pick up only in certain burroughs, but still get the same money. Hey, it's a city that never sleeps.

But black cars are different because you work by appointment and you get to pick your hours. So a judge in Saleem v. Corporate Transportation Group says you get no overtime.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals says black car drivers -- more than 700 in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut -- are independent contractors. They are not employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The drivers had argued that the defendants controlled their business. They charged them for the right to drive, negotiated rates, maintained a dress code and set rules on vehicle maintenance.

But a trial judge dismissed the case, and the appeals court affirmed. Judge Debra Ann Livingston said the drivers were basically small business owners and the defendants "wielded virtually no influence over other essential components of the business, including when, where, in what capacity, and with what frequency plaintiffs would drive."

The court said that companies in similar cases might be deemed employees, but black cars are different. In addition to choosing their own hours, the drivers can work for competitors and charge their own fares.

Black Cars, Taxis, and Uber

Like other major metropolitan areas, New York has had to adapt to changes in the transportation service industry. The city said in a recent report that e-dispatch services like Uber and Lyft have put competitive pressure on yellow, green and black cars.

"Yellow and green taxi fleets, which are subject to accessible vehicle requirements, are losing their supply of willing drivers to e-dispatch services," the report says.

The Second Circuit ruling only affects black car drivers, but sets a precedent. Evan Spelfogel, a lawyer for the defendants, said it provides a "roadmap" for companies to preserve independent contractor relations with drivers.

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