Uber and Lyft drivers protest to demand more benefits during coronavirus crisis

This article is reprinted from The Guardian:


Rideshare drivers in San Francisco defied the city’s shelter in place order on Thursday to protest in front of Uber’s headquarters, demanding the company provide them with more benefits as they continue to work through the coronavirus pandemic.

The drivers are calling for the enforcement of AB5, a landmark California law that went into effect in January and reclassifies drivers from contractors to full-time employees entitled to benefits.

In the time since then, gig giants Uber and Lyft have spent millions to resist the law, insisting that their drivers are not employees and refusing them the minimum three days of paid sick leave required by the state, unemployment benefits or disability insurance.

Wearing a yellow face mask and gloves, driver Rashed Alsenea said he has worked for Uber for more than six years and in that time has completed nearly 17,000 trips.

Alsenea, who lives in San Francisco and has three children, transitioned primarily to delivering food through Uber Eats in recent days because there is less contact with riders and more demand for work. He said he lives in fear of infecting his family but cannot afford to stop working.

“We are workers, we are entitled to our rights and safety,” he said. “We cannot work from home, our car is where we work.”

Kari Paul (@kari_paul)
Protesting in a pandemic: drivers stand outside Uber’s headquarters demanding sick pay as they work through the coronavirus lockdowns pic.twitter.com/4QsKoGFqaB
March 19, 2020

Some 81% of Uber and Lyft drivers in the US said they have seen a decrease in demand since coronavirus measures began to be enforced and 80% say earnings are down in the past week, according to a survey from The Ride Share Guy.

Dominique Smith, a driver with Lyft since 2017, said he is considering leaving the job after watching his wages dwindle under the coronavirus quarantine.

“I worked 10 hours yesterday and made $40,” he said. “We are getting starvation wages while getting food to people who need it.”

Uber and Lyft claim their drivers are contractors who work part time, but 65% of respondents to the Ride Share Guy survey said they have no other way to earn money than Uber or Lyft.

Smith said he rents a car to drive with Lyft and has to pay $240 a week for it. Now he is using the car primarily to drive to interviews for new jobs, including one at an Amazon fulfillment center – which is hiring during the coronavirus pandemic as delivery orders soar.

Cherri Murphy, a driver with Uber, said she drove for nine hours on Wednesday and made just $90, barely enough to cover the cost of gas and sanitizing her car.

Among the demands from drivers is that Uber and Lyft cover the costs of such supplies, which is required under labor laws for employees.

“AB5 has to be enforced, and it has to be enforced now,” Murphy said. “Not only for our own economic stability, but for the health and wellbeing of our nation and communities.”

Kari Paul is a west coast based technology reporter for Guardian US.

Featured image credit: Jeenah Moon/Reuters