Summary List PlacementRideshare and food delivery drivers are planning to protest Wednesday outside Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, California, over what they say is gig companies’ continued failure to protect them nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drivers for Lyft, Instacart, Uber, and Uber subsidiary Postmates said in a press release announcing the protest that the companies aren’t providing adequate PPE and have refused to pay them for the time it takes to clean their vehicles.
They said that Proposition 22 — an industry-backed law passed in California in November that classified rideshare and food delivery drivers as contractors, excluding them from certain labor protections and restricting the ability of local governments to regulate gig companies — is largely to blame.
“Eleven months into this pandemic and workers are still asking for the most basic life saving protections for themselves, their families and their communities,” Cherri Murphy, a Lyft driver and organizer with Gig Workers Rising, a co-organizer of the protest, said in a statement.
“It’s really stressful — I’m always being timed when I’m driving for these companies and if I don’t get places quickly, I can be punished. It’s like the companies don’t care about making sure I have enough time to wash my hands, clean my car, and wipe down surfaces,” Lucas Chamberlain, Instacart driver and member of We Drive Progress, another group behind the protest, said in a statement.
Under Prop 22, drivers aren’t paid for the time they spend waiting for Uber or Lyft to find them a ride or delivery order or sanitizing their vehicles in between jobs. Some gig economy researchers have estimated that loophole could allow companies to pay drivers for just 67% of the hours they actually work.
“Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Lyft has provided tens of thousands of face masks, cleaning supplies and in-car partitions to drivers at no cost to them, and continue to provide access to these supplies today. Our most active drivers also received a free safety kit, consisting of a reusable cloth face covering, sanitizer and disinfectant,” a Lyft spokesperson told Insider, adding that Lyft doesn’t profit off PPE.
Uber told Insider that it has allocated $50 million toward safety supplies for drivers and said it has provided 30 million masks and other cleaning supplies to drivers worldwide.
But while California law requires most companies to provide PPE and sick pay to their employees and to pay into the state’s unemployment insurance program, Prop 22 classified drivers as contractors, allowing gig companies to save far larger amounts by not having to cover those costs. Uber and Lyft drivers last year claimed they’re owed $630 million in back pay as a result of the misclassification. One study found that between 2014 and 2019, the two companies should have paid $413 million into California’s unemployment insurance fund.
Uber spokesperson Kayla Whaling told Insider the company “has tried to do everything we can to support [independent contractors] while they support our communities, including distributing PPE free of charge, providing financial assistance for those who were diagnosed with COVID-19, helping connect them to new work opportunities on Uber or elsewhere, and consolidating information to help them apply for PPP loans or federal unemployment assistance.”
Still, Uber hasn’t always delivered on those promises, and when it has, it’s often only done so following backlash from drivers, regulators, courts, or the media.
Insider reported last April that, despite Uber’s claims it would pay drivers who tested positive for COVID-19, the company had denied legitimate claims and even locked out drivers who requested sick pay.
In July, a federal judge in New York ruled that Uber and Lyft had delayed the state’s ability to pay drivers unemployment benefits because they had played “games” with its requests for earnings data.
Wednesday’s protest — which Gig Workers Rising and We Drive Progress said will include a socially distanced rally — comes as some lawmakers in California are already pushing for more accountability for gig companies who rely on rideshare and delivery drivers.
San Francisco supervisor Matt Haney said he plans to introduce legislation that would require companies like Uber and Lyft to provide PPE and pay drivers for time they spend cleaning their vehicles.
“In the midst of this devastating pandemic, workers have gone above and beyond to protect themselves and our communities by purchasing protective equipment and cleaning supplies and spending their personal time sanitizing their cars to save lives. It is outrageous that while delivery app corporations continue to rake in profits, workers are forced to shoulder these burdens while struggling to make ends meet,” Haney said in a statement.
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