Many on-demand delivery companies are cleaning up as the shut-in economy surges amid our current pandemic, but the rideshare industry is taking a hit, and gig workers are forced to put in extra work under high-risk conditions.
If you’ve popped into a restaurant lately — and you probably haven’t, according to today’s Chronicle report describing how the coronavirus outbreak has had “Worse than 9/11” effects on the city’s hospitality industry in addition to the downturn affecting all small businesses — you may have noticed more Uber Eats-type delivery drivers than actual paying customers in the joint. The outbreak has been a boon for food and grocery delivery entities like DoorDash and Postmates, but a bust for straight-up rideshare, dog walking, and other on-demand services now that the tech elite have all been given mandatory work-from-home passes that eliminate their commutes or need for household tasks to be completed in their workday absence.
But this discussion ignores the actual people who perform the on-demand tasks, and Wired reports on the gig worker suffering from the coronavirus situation, where contractors are overworked as hell and forced to endure additional healthy risks for a few greasy dollars, and others whose work has entirely dried up, with absolutely no form of employee protections like sick pay, health benefits, or workers’ compensation.
“Suddenly all of my work has disappeared,” Seattle dog walker Mandolin Noir told Wired. “I have enough money to pay bills through next month and that’s it.”
Wired’s article focuses on Seattle gig workers, as for both better and worse, the Seattle area has overtaken northern California as the region with the highest number of cases. That region also has a uniquely high percentage of Amazon and Microsoft employees who are all under work-from-home orders. But that region also has the nursing home where 26 residents have died and a far higher coronavirus fatality rate than any region in the U.S., and at-risk gig workers’ utter lack of benefits creates what Wired describes as a “perverse incentive for cash-strapped contractors to stay behind the wheel.”
We did learn this weekend through the Wall Street Journal that Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart have had some manner of powwow between the companies to discuss a compensation fund for their gig workers who’ve lost work. But at the same time, those companies have their own ghoulish perverse incentives too. Their looming legal battles over AB 5 employee classification may hamstring their generosity, as any gesture of support for their task-performing workers may be seen as proof of actual employment for these companies whose existence and fortune is based very much on jobbing contractors out of employment rights.
“These companies were built on taking no responsibility or accountability for anything,” L.A.-based gig driver Ezra Dubroff told Wired. “When you build an entire industry and economy based on offloading all the efficiencies to someone else — to minimum-wage workers — it doesn’t make the problems disappear.”
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