Op-Ed: Lyft saved my family’s life: The gig economy made that possible

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I was in a dark place a few years ago. My father, a proud business owner, lost his job, and I couldn’t find one to help support my family during this trying time. The struggle to keep the lights on and a roof over our heads deeply affected us, and, to make matters worse, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. 

I’ve always had a passion for designing video games and a desire to be my own boss, but with my family just trying to get by, I now needed a way to continue pursuing my dreams while financially supporting my family during this challenging time. 

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Lyft provided a lifeline to start turning things around for my family and has changed my life. It’s provided me the financial stability and scheduling flexibility to support myself while I figured out what came next for me and my loved ones. I could work when I wanted, where I wanted and for however long I wanted, meaning I could build work around caring for my family and continuing to invest in my future.

But based on what I’m reading in the news, all of that is coming under attack. Some lawmakers in Albany are trying to pass legislation like the one just implemented in California, which could force me into becoming an employee of Lyft, and all the baggage that comes with it. Already, that law has caused chaos for workers across California, putting their financial stability into very real jeopardy.

If these policy makers in New York get their way, I’d have to work more traditional and restrictive hours, taking away my ability to work on my business and visit my family. It would be a disaster for our future. 

Fortunately, our own State Senator, Diane Savino, has been a strong leader on this issue and has expressed an openness toward finding a middle ground between maintaining worker flexibility and providing us new protections. Most drivers I know don’t want to become employees, so we’re encouraged by her efforts to strike the right balance.

State Sen. Savino and other legislators have an opportunity to learn lessons from the California law and develop solutions that will help, not hurt gig workers. One place to start could be expanding the already successful Black Car Fund and creating a truly portable benefits system for us so we aren’t dependent on an employer for these in the first place. 

The gig economy allows me to care for myself and my family in ways I once thought impossible. I urge Sen. Savino and her fellow lawmakers to take my story into account as they think about how to support gig workers. We, as New Yorkers, have a moment to pioneer a new way to support this type of work, instead of crushing it. Let’s get it right.

Christos Kotsonis is a Staten Island resident.

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