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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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News + PoliticsCOVIDGig drivers demand better safety gear

Gig drivers demand better safety gear

Uber keeps getting richer -- but drivers say they lack masks, cleaning equipment.


About 40 cars and drivers held a “clean-in” protest outside of Uber’s 1455 Market Street headquarters Wednesday. Drivers claim that they have insufficient access to PPE, despite being nearly a year into the COVID pandemic and more than three months after the passage of Prop 22, which provided a windfall to sponsoring companies after their valuations increased by millions of dollars.

Uber’s market valuation rose most drastically, increasing by $11 billion on November 4, the day after Prop 22 passed. Lyft’s market capitalization increased by $1.8 billion.

Driver Oman Gavides cleans his car.

Under Prop 22, drivers are not compensated for the time they spend cleaning vehicles. Lyft, Doordash, and Instacart all say that they are committed to providing PPE to their drivers.

Lyft said that they have provided tens of thousands of face masks, cleaning supplies and in-car partitions to drivers for free. In addition to the amount of PPE that they have distributed, Lyft, of course, is the one that ran, and continues to run, a driver-exclusive store that sells PPE to their drivers at-cost.

Doordash said  that PPE items are free, including shipping, for all Dashers who have completed a delivery on the platform and can be reordered on a weekly basis, and Instacart said it has provided 700,000 free health and safety kits to shoppers, which include a washable cloth face mask and a three-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer.

Uber said in a statement that its drivers can refuse rides to passengers without masks, without any penalty, and of the 30 million masks they have purchased to distribute to drivers, they have so far sent out 21 million. It seems however, that some of their drivers have still been left out in the cold.

But drivers had a different story.

“[Uber] only gives me one box of masks every three to four months. And there’s usually about 20 masks a box,” said Omar Gavides, who drives for Uber and Lyft. Gavides spends about $100 every two weeks for disinfecting spray, wipes, and masks.

At the “clean-in” Gavides received a box of 50 masks and a bottle of disinfectant spray. “I came today to support the drivers, and to get some masks,” said Gavides.

While Uber and Lyft have at least made public commitments to cleanliness, other companies have not. Instacart said that they do not mandate cleanliness standards for their drivers, due to the fact that they do not transport passengers. Still, some drivers insist on cleaning their cars to protect themselves.

“We’re handling food and produce, we don’t know where the bags have been, they could be contaminated,” said Saori Okawa, who is an Instacart shopper and a worker who delivers food for Doordash. “It’s my choice, I want to protect myself and my customers.”

Part of the reason Okawa is worried, he said, is because a friend of hers who is also an Instacart driver, but whom she did not want to name out of privacy concerns, contracted COVID about two weeks ago. It is unclear whether she contracted the virus because of her work at Instacart, or for other reasons, but it has nonetheless underscored the importance of PPE and sanitation for Okawa, who spends about $40 every two weeks on masks, gloves, disinfectant spray and wipes, and face-shields, which she wears when forced to break social distancing guidelines to scan unmasked customers’ IDs for alcohol deliveries. Although Instacart provides free PPE to their shoppers, some personally find the PPE to be inadequate at protecting them from COVID-19.

“The cloth mask is very loose for me; it’s not enough,” said Okawa.

The “clean-in” was designed to show support for a local ordinance that is currently in the works that would mandate companies provide free PPE or reimbursement for purchasing PPE, the ability to “reasonably” reschedule or take time off for reasons of personal health and safety, and protects workers from retaliation from employers if they invoke their rights under the ordinance or report violations of the ordinance to the city’s 311 service.

An emergency ordinance with the exact same provisions is currently in effect, but this new ordinance would make amendments in light of Prop 22, codifying a “covered employer” instead as “covered entity” and an “employee” as a “worker” to prevent gig companies from circumventing the ordinance, ensuring that the ordinance is posted in a conspicuous place at their workplace, and sets the ordinance to sunset after two years or when the state of emergency is called off.

These amendments will likely go before the full board by March 3.

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  1. “Uber keeps getting richer” When a firm goes public, they exchange shares for capital. After the exchange, the firm no longer holds those shares. When share prices for a public firm rise, that does not mean that the firm is “richer.” It means that as investors view the stock, the stock holds promise for future profit making. Sometimes firms buy stock back and hold it in firm as a way to nudge towards scarcity and goose stock price. I do not see any evidence that Uber’s Board is using revenues from a nonprofitable enterprise to buy back stock.

  2. The UK courts ruled that Uber must treat its employees like employees, not like slaves on a plantation. Interesting that the Brits are somewhat more progressive on this issue than California.
    IMHO the best thing that could happen would be if everyone stopped using Uber, all the drivers quit and everyone went back to walking, public transport and cabs

  3. With these crooked companies this is not a matter of oversight or dragging their heels. They are exploitative and abusive by design, both of their workers and of public health and safety.

  4. Masks are virtually free at this point. If someone wants to freelance using their private vehicle to make some money, why on earth would they not invest a trivial amount in face coverings for themselves and their passengers?

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