QUEENS (CN) – In a class action, a New York cabbie claims that “monopoly” medallion owners overcharge workers to lease their cabs, double-charge them for taking holidays off, and force cabbies to tip their dispatchers. Samir Talbi sued Boulevard Taxi Leasing and Mike Mellis Brokerage in Queens County Court.
Talbi says he worked for the defendants as a licensed cabbie from 2005 to 2010. He also sued Michael Mellis and Sotirakis Coritsidis, officers and/or directors of the corporate defendants.
“The corporate defendant and other taxicab garages and brokerage companies enjoy a monopoly on lawful cab service and, as such, taxicabs must bear a medallion issued by the City of New York in controlled numbers. Plaintiff and the members of the NY Class must, therefore, pay the lease fee to the possessor of a medallion from the City as a condition of practicing their trade,” the complaint states.
Before 2008, Talbi says, he licensed his taxi on a weekly basis, but he was forced to switch to daily leases after the companies upgraded their facilities and fleets.
Talbi says his bosses would not permit drivers to take a day off on lease payments, even on days that they did not work.
If they did not drive on Thanksgiving or Christmas, drivers were charged double the rate for lease of his medallion, Talbi says.
He claims the companies’ policies violate The Taxi and Limousine Commission’s regulated weekly rates.
“From on or about March 2009, defendants charged plaintiff approximately $116 for the night shift on Mondays, approximately $121 for the night shift on Tuesdays, approximately $130 for the night shift on Wednesdays, approximately $138 for the night shift on Thursdays, approximately $141 for the night shift on Fridays, approximately $141 for the night shift on Saturdays and approximately $107 for the night shift on Sundays, for a weekly total of $894.20. The standard lease cap set by the TLC during this time period is $666 per week,” the complaint states.
Talbi says the defendants charged drivers for damages to cabs incurred on the job, even though insurance covers those expenses.
He says he was charged $500 for damages to the cab after he was forced to drive in a snowstorm.
The defendants also overcharge drivers to use hybrid vehicles and require drivers to “tip” dispatchers at the beginning of their shifts in order to work, the complaint states.
The complaint describes at length the difficulties New York cab drivers face.
“There are approximately 50,000 medallion taxicab drivers licensed through the TLC [New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission] who compete for jobs as drivers of the approximately 13,000 medallion taxicabs in New York City. The nature of the work that taxicab drivers perform exempts these workers from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other state wage and hour laws. Consequently, taxicab drivers frequently work very long hours for pay that can be less than half of the minimum wage and are not provided with benefits,” the complaint states.
“According to the Department of Labor, driving a taxicab is among the most dangerous jobs in the country. In a report issued in 2000, the agency stated a taxi driver was 60 times more likely than other U.S. workers to be killed on the job. The New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health reports that taxi drivers face a level of on-the-job assaults second only to those directed at police and private security guards.
“More than 90 percent of the drivers of New York City’s medallion taxicabs are immigrants from South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Most of these workers are new to the United States and many have been unaware of their rights and reluctant to speak up for themselves to improve their working conditions.”
Talbi seeks class damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit. He is represented by Brent Pelton.