Gig workers petition Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and others for sick leave as coronavirus spreads

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Drivers and delivery people for companies including Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash are banding together to petition for paid time off, amid rising concerns about the coronavirus. The group of more than 900 gig workers is asking California policymakers to require companies to immediately implement paid sick leave for workers who are still being treated as contractors.

In the petition, the workers say they are often on the “front lines of exposure,” given that every day they come in contact with various people, including those arriving at airports or heading to the hospital. Without paid sick leave, the gig workers say they are often forced to choose between making ends meet and taking care of their health, and therefore the health of the company’s customers. 

“We are without a safety net, bottom line,” says Edan Alva, a Lyft driver. Gig companies “know they should be responsible… but they’re avoiding it.”

The gig companies say they’re working to protect both customers and workers with new policies created in light of the coronavirus, which continues to spread across the nation and beyond.

The petition, led by a campaign called Gig Workers Rising, highlights the ongoing demands from workers who want to be considered employees. In January, a new law called Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) took effect, making it harder for companies like Uber and Lyft to classify workers as contractors. But the companies continue to keep their workers as contractors, choosing instead to push a ballot initiative that would provide an alternative to AB5. 

Working Partnerships USA, a social change nonprofit, joined with various labor groups to created the Gig Workers Rising campaign in August 2018. Since then, the campaign has hosted protests over AB5 and Uber and Lyft’s initial public offerings. The coronavirus adds a new level of urgency to an old demand for sick leave, says Lauren Casey, a lead organizer of Gig Workers Rising.

“It really brings up questions about what happens in a society to workers who don’t have basic rights, like sick-time and access to healthcare,” she says. “Last week drivers were hearing about companies like Lyft and Instacart sending their employees home to work remotely—so there’s this juxtaposition of who is the priority.”

Uber, DoorDash, and Instacart say they will pay drivers up to 14 days if they are diagnosed with coronavirus or placed in quarantine by a public health authority. Lyft has a similar plan to pay drivers infected or officially quarantined, though they did not clarify the time period for which compensation would be provided.

Postmates says it has created a fund to credit its workers for the costs of doctors appointments and medical expenses related to coronavirus’ impact across more than 22 states. The company says it’s also offering its customers the opportunity to get their food without any contact from their deliver person, who will drop their order off at the door. DoorDash is testing a similar feature.

But workers organizing the petition say these measures are not enough.

The problem is that in order to receive payment, they have to be diagnosed with the coronavirus. Many gig workers skip visiting the doctor when they’re sick, because they don’t have health insurance and can’t pay for the appointment out of pocket. On top of that, health officials recommend that if people feel sick, whether or not they have a diagnosis, they stay home. The petitioning workers say they don’t have that option.

Gig workers “have to choose between [their health] and making rent,” Casey says. “That’s a choice no one should be forced to make.”

Carlos Ramos, who drives full-time for Lyft, says he’s concerned that gig workers aren’t getting enough guidance about their job and at what point in the spread of the virus they should stop working. 

“We’re in a box breathing each other’s air, and there’s germs being exchanged,” he says. “Yet we’re getting the same precautionary warnings as everyone else.”

Ramos is also concerned that if the trend continues, it will only be a matter of time before “the bottom falls out” and drivers won’t have enough passengers to make ends meet. Because gig companies are still treating their workers as contractors, they wouldn’t be able to claim unemployment. 

Gig Workers Rising plans to continue to collect signatures over the next several days, when the group will determine its next steps.

“This virus is going to have a huge impact,” says an Alameda, Calif.-based Uber and Lyft driver who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. “We have to act quickly because we’re risking a lot of people.”

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