Under pressure to offer more protection to workers, major gig economy companies are considering setting up a fund to compensate drivers affected by the coronavirus, according to The Wall Street Journal. Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, and Postmates are “in talks” to see how they can come together to set up a fund to pay workers infected by or quarantined with the virus.
Food delivery drivers are in high demand right now as more Americans are working from home or simply staying away from restaurants in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Postmates and Instacart have responded by implementing contactless delivery options where drivers simply leave food on the doorstep instead of handing it off directly to the customer.
Those measures mitigate some risk. However, they don’t account for the fact that gig economy workers are classified as contractors in most states, which means they don’t get paid for time off, including sick leave. In some cases, taking time off for illness could drastically affect workers’ livelihoods. One worker told the WSJ that “staying home won’t pay the bills.”
That puts delivery drivers in a tough position: stay home and miss earning essential income, or work even when you’re feeling sick and potentially risk further spreading coronavirus. While this conundrum is true of many, many types of workers right now, gig workers are in especially high demand as more people order food in, rather than go out to restaurants.
The aforementioned companies are expected to make a decision about this potential fund in a few days. Uber has already said it will compensate up to 14 days for both rideshare drivers and delivery drivers diagnosed or quarantined with coronavirus.
Compensating affected drivers is just one of many issues around worker treatment for which delivery companies have come under fire recently. Uber, Lyft, and Postmates are on the list of gig economy companies currently fighting California’s Assembly Bill 5 — also known as the “gig worker bill” — which reclassifies those workers as employees and entitles them to certain benefits — including paid sick leave. DoorDash and Instacart famously made a lot of enemies in 2019 over their worker tipping policies. Meanwhile, advocacy groups like Gig Workers Rising and Gig Workers Collective are putting pressure on tech companies to enact better labor policies.
One possible result of the current outbreak is that it could prioritize the issue of gig workers’ rights and spur both regulators and tech companies into action faster. Coronavirus isn’t the last public health crisis we’ll see in our lifetimes. As gig economy jobs become the norm for a growing number of the population, ensuring better protection for workers’ health needs to be built right into the job description.