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UC Study Shows Awful Treatment of SF Gig-Workers by Employers During Pandemic

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Most ride hailing and food deliver workers are full-time.  Despite being labeled as ‘gig’ workers.  Photo by Maxime Lhuilier

In a study conducted by researchers at UC Santa Cruz, which included in-person interviews with hundreds of San Francisco gig-workers beginning in February, followed up by several more surveys with gig-workers through the pandemic ‘shelter in place’ order, reveals an incredible view of our ‘essential workers’ during a pandemic.

The 643 ‘gig’ workers questioned work for Uber, Lyft, Doordash, GrubHub, Instacart, and Shipt.  The baseline survey, which reached 407 ride-hailing workers and 236 food-delivery workers, revealed a workforce on the margins.  A workforce that is mostly people of color (80%) and immigrants (56%), whose employers refuse to recognize as actual employees, and who do very little to keep them safe during a pandemic.

UCSC Institution for Social Transformation Survey Results:

SF Gig-worker Economic Circumstances:

  • 46% support others with their earnings, including 33% supporting children

  • 21% of participants have no health insurance, and another 30% depend on public insurance sources, such as Covered California or Medi-Cal

  • 15% receive some form of public assistance, including 13% of food-delivery workers who depend on food stamps

  • 45% report they could not handle a $400 emergency expense without borrowing money


SF Gig-Worker Access to Health Insurance

Gig workers were asked: How do you access health insurance?

Half the participants report working 40 or more hours per week in app-based work, and nearly 40% have worked more than two years for their respective companies. Yet none of them are considered ’employees’.  None are given health insurance through their employer. These companies expect the tax payer to foot that bill.

Chris Benner, professor of environmental studies and sociology and the director of the Institute for Social Transformation at UCSC, said of the findings, “This is not a ‘gig.’ This is full-time work for the majority of these workers,” said Benner. “More than one-third are supporting children and nearly half are supporting other adults.”

Benner continued, “We surveyed the same workforce at two different points in time,” said Benner. “The first gives us a picture of these workers under normal work circumstances, and the second is a snapshot of the impacts of COVID on this workforce.”

working conditions for Gig-workers during COVID

Survey respondents said the primary app they work for is doing little to help them during Covid Pandemic

  • Only 19% were offered procedures or support for what to do if they exhibit symptoms of the virus

  • Only 27% said their app provides financial assistance if they have been exposed to COVID-19

  • Only 30% were offered training on how to protect themselves through contact with customers

  • Only 41% were being provided gloves, hand sanitizer, or other protective equipment

  • 55% said their app was doing nothing or not enough to respond to the virus

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB5 into law, to provide gig-workers with basic worker benefits.  Companies like Uber, Lyft and Doordash famously shirked the law, and instead of pouring money into their employees and into taxes they poured $90 million on a 2020 ballot measure to re-regulate gig economy workers in a way that benefits their shareholders.

Now, as of May 5th the State is having to sue Uber and Lyft for ‘Cheating’ drivers and taxpayers, and ignoring the laws inacted to protect them.

“At a time when these companies should be providing sanitizer, gloves, masks, and information about how to prevent the spread of the virus, they haven’t been, because that would undermine their claim that these workers aren’t their employees,” said Benner of UCSC study. “Food and grocery delivery has been deemed essential work, and these workers are putting themselves at risk, but they are not getting adequate support or protection.”

Meanwhile ride haling company Lyft bragged to investors this week, that by eliminating 17% of its workforce, it would stave off loses, and in response Lyft stock went up 15% in after-hours trading. Lyft says it only had to fire 17% of its workforce, but what the stockholders knew was that a) Lyft planned to continue to ignore state law AB5 and treat it’s actual workforce like they had no rights, benefits or protections, and  b) they were essentially able to fire millions of gig-workers without paying them a dime, or contributing any money to the state unemployment fund, or to providing PPE equipment to protect their workers.

In other words, Lyft and companies like it are saying they can hire, fire or furlough their real workforce, without having to recognize the laws regarding workers rights in our state, or having to pay into the state’s unemployment fund, or insure their workforce.

To see the complete survey from UCSC Institute of Social Transformation:

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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1 Comment

  1. Nicholas Garcia
    May 12, 2020 at 8:52 am

    The state should provide basic healthcare so companies don’t have to.