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News + PoliticsLaborGig workers aren't getting the healthcare they were promised

Gig workers aren’t getting the healthcare they were promised

Survey shows that most rideshare and delivery drivers are unable to access the benefits under Prop. 22

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Rideshare and delivery drivers have been unable to access healthcare stipends promised under Prop 22, which passed in November, according to polling results of 501 California rideshare drivers released this morning.

The main barriers for drivers accessing these healthcare stipends is a lack of information regarding which drivers are eligible and how to apply, with 66 percent of 501 drivers statewide responding that they did not have enough information on the stipend in order to apply, according to a report summarizing the poll, which was conducted by Tulchin Research, a San Francisco-based polling research firm, between April 7 and 15.

More specifically, rideshare and delivery companies like Uber and DoorDash require drivers to submit proof of enrollment in an insurance plan excluding Medicare, Medi-Cal, Medicaid, or employer-sponsored coverage or family coverage plans, and to submit that proof during a two-week window at the end of each fiscal quarter. The most recent opt-in period was from April 1 to April 15.

The poll shows that 67 percent of respondents said that they did not know about the deadline and 69 percent said that they had not requested proof of enrollment from their health insurance provider.

Uber, Lyft, and Instacart did not respond to inquiries regarding why these insurance policies are excluded. Doordash deferred commentary to Geoff Vetter, spokesperson for the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Coalition, formerly the “Yes on 22 Coalition” who replied in an emailed statement.

“Prop 22 provides historic new earning guarantees and benefits for app-based drivers, including access to a health care stipend for those who drive more than 15 hours a week. App-based platforms have all extensively communicated with drivers about the new benefit, how to qualify for the stipend, and how to apply. In the five months since Prop 22 passed, thousands have started receiving the health care stipend and more will sign up to receive it as app-based work rebounds. The reality is that 80% of drivers work fewer than 20 hours per week and the majority work less than 10 hours per week. Most of these drivers have other jobs that provide benefits like health care.”

Although survey respondent pools often number in the thousands, 501 respondents is quite large for this particular poll, according to Ben Tulchin, president of Tulchin Research.

Tulchin said at a virtual press conference that due to the small population of rideshare drivers, and the fact that the survey was done only in California, the response to the survey is significant.

“You have a limited population of drivers, so 501 is a very good sample size. It’s a representative sample,” said Tulchin.

The total stipend available to drivers under Prop 22 depends on the amount of “engaged hours,” or the amount that they spend transporting passengers and deliveries not including wait time, that they drive each week on average.

Drivers averaging between 15 and 25 engaged hours per week would receive $613.77 for each fiscal quarter, and drivers averaging more than 25 engaged hours per week would receive $1,227.25, equal to 80 percent of the quarterly premiums of Covered California’s Bronze (lowest) coverage tier.

Reaching this goal can take a lot of time, with drivers in reality working far more than 25 hours a week to reach the full-time healthcare subsidy threshold. This can happen in part due the long wait times between rides in urban areas that are saturated with rideshare drivers and because many rideshare drivers are low-income and have to commute from inland areas with lower rent– rideshare companies do not need to reimburse drivers for all fuel and maintenance costs for their cars

“A lot of people do more than full-time, because to get to 40 hours a week of engaged time you have to drive a lot more than that,” said Tulchin.

Of the drivers surveyed, 21 percent drove between 15 and 24 hours per week and 39 percent drove more than 25 hours per week.

Jorge Orentes, who has driven for Uber and Lyft for more than four years and a member of We Drive Progress, said that he has to commute from Sacramento to San Francisco two hours each way every day he drives because there are too few rides in Sacramento.

Jerome Gage, a member of Mobile Workers Alliance, a coalition of rideshare and delivery drivers advocating to raise working standards, and a driver with Uber and Lyft, said that it took him three times to qualify for the healthcare subsidy, and involved him enrolling in Covered California’s Bronze plan, which costs him $136 per month, in order to be eligible to earn the full subsidy, and that is if he does enough rides to qualify.

“It was a frustrating process. I was annoyed that they required that we got a specific kind of health insurance, I wanted to get the right health conditions for me, with my income bracket…so I have to pay the money upfront and even then there is no guarantee that I even get the stipend, I would have to work 25 hours of engaged time per week”

Gage added that the subsidy only really works for young, healthy people who do not have large health insurance costs and for those with larger healthcare costs, Prop 22’s healthcare subsidy largely does not provide for their needs.

“It’s a flat amount, it’s pre-determined. Drivers who need the silver or the gold [Covered California Plan], the stipend only covers the market rate for the worst plan, so if there’s any specifics in life that increase the cost of plan, whether you have children, or you’re older, then you’re kind of out of luck,” said Gage.

Lyft said in its documentation explaining the healthcare subsidy that drivers are informed of their accumulated hours every two weeks so they can track their average engaged hours as they work towards being eligible for their healthcare stipend. Gage said that he did not receive any updates on his earnings.

“There were no progress updates. If they told me, ‘oh we’re going to be paying you out in a week and you’re at 24 hours average’ I would have busted my butt, but it really falls on the driver to about figuring out how many hours of engaged time that they worked, because they aren’t going to tell you, they told me nothing,” said Gage.

Saori Okawa, who has driven for Instacart and Doordash since the beginning of the pandemic, said that she feels devastated that Prop 22 passed, as it eliminated gig workers’ chances of getting the benefits and worker protections due to employees, and that federal legislation may be needed to provide worker protections and benefits to gig workers.

“Right now I just feel helpless, and I think we may need help from the national level, because we have lost it from the state level,” said Okawa.

But help for drivers may be on the way.

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said this morning during an interview with Reuters that “in a lot of cases,” gig workers should be classified as employees.

“We are looking at it, but in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees. In some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not, and I think it has to be consistent across the board,” said Walsh.

While this was seen as a sign of hope by some drivers, others are more skeptical.

“He said most gig workers should be classified as employees, I would go further to say that all gig workers should be classified as employees,” said Gage. “You’re either an employee worthy of benefits or you’re not. I don’t think we should play with creating a subclass state of employment.”

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