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‘These People Are Evil’: Drivers Speak Out Against Uber’s New Coronavirus Sick Leave Fund

Countless Uber drivers are now being pushed to the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, transporting humans, food, supplies, and maybe soon Covid-19 testing kits as shelter-in-place rules cause demand for delivery services to spike. Yet despite their exposure to infection, gig workers lack paid sick leave, health benefits, or unemployment insurance because of their status as independent contractors.

Earlier this month, Uber, Lyft, and Amazon drivers protested the exclusion of gig workers from Silicon Valley’s monumental heave to protect itself from the coronavirus. As technology employees go remote, contractors are burdened with extra demands and no additional support. Uber, Lyft, and Amazon eventually agreed to compensate gig workers through ad hoc funds, but OneZero spoke to Uber drivers who say this is hardly a safety net. “I think I’m going to fall through the cracks,” said Kimberly James, a 46-year-old driver for Uber Eats in Atlanta, Georgia. After a series of devastating hardships, including losing her house in a fire, James has come to rely on food delivery platforms like Uber Eats and DoorDash to survive.

In 2012, James was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, and her weekly income of $400 means she cannot afford to get sick. Health officials have warned that the coronavirus is especially dangerous for immunocompromised people, so today James has no choice but to isolate indoors. One-time payouts are based on a person’s average daily earnings for the past six months. Someone making $28.57 per day is eligible for a payment of $400, the equivalent of 14 days of average pay, while someone earning $121.42 per day can receive $1,700, Uber says on its website. To qualify, drivers must have completed one trip in the 30 days before March 6, 2020, when the global program was first announced.

Gig Workers for Target’s Delivery App Hate Their Algorithmically-Determined Pay

In 2017 Target bought a same-day home-delivery company called Shipt for $550 million. Shipt now services half of Target’s stores, reports Motherboard, and employs more than 100,000 gig workers.

Unfortunately, they’re working for a company that “has a track record of censoring and retaliating against workers for asking basic questions about their working conditions or expressing dissent,” reports Motherboard. For example, an hour after tweeting about how there was now much more competition for assignments, one Seattle gig worker found their account suddenly “deactivated” — the equivalent of being fired — and also received an email saying they were no longer “eligible to reapply”.

“They stamp out resistance by flooding the market with new workers…” complained one Shipt worker, “and they’re actively monitoring all the social media groups. ”
On its official national Facebook group, known as the Shipt Shopper Lounge, which has more than 100,000 members, Shipt moderators selected by the company frequently censor and remove posts, turn off comments sections, and ban workers who speak out about their working conditions, according to screenshots, interviews, and other documentation provided to Motherboard. The same is true on local Facebook groups, which Shipt also monitors closely, according to workers. Motherboard spoke to seven current Shipt workers, each of whom described a culture of retaliation, fear, and censorship online…

Because Shipt classifies its workers as contractors, not employees, workers pay for all of their expenses — including gas, wear and tear on their cars, and accidents — out of pocket. They say the tips on large orders from Target, sometimes with hundreds of items, can be meager. Workers say Shipt customers often live in gated and upscale communities and that the app encourages workers to tack on gifts like thank you cards, hot cocoa, flowers, and balloons onto orders (paid for out of their own pocket) and to offer to walk customer’s dogs and take out their trash, as a courtesy. Shipt calls this kind of service “Bringing the Magic,” which can improve workers’ ratings from customers that factor into the algorithm that determines who gets offered the most lucrative orders…

Unfortunately, that new algorithm (which began rolling out last year) is opaque to the workers affected by it — though Gizmodo reported pay appears to be at least 28% lower. And Motherboard heard even higher estimates:
“Our best estimate is that payouts are now 30 percent less, and up to 50 percent on orders,” one Shipt worker in Kalamazoo with two years under her belt, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told Motherboard. “I fluctuate between extreme anger and despair. It’s been three weeks since this has been implemented, and one of my good friends told me that she’s down the equivalent of a car payment.”

Another Shipt worker in Palm Springs, California provided Motherboard with receipts for a 181-item order that included six Snapple cases, five La Croix cases, and 12 packs of soda. They had to wheel three shopping carts out of a Ralph’s grocery store and deliver them — and earned $12.68 for the job. The customer did not tip. (Under the older, more transparent pay model, they would have earned $44.19.) “That’s a real slap in the face,” they told Motherboard.

Silicon Valley’s dirty secret: Using a shadow workforce of contract employees to drive profits

As the gig economy grows, the ratio of contract workers to regular employees in corporate America is shifting. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber and other Silicon Valley tech titans now employ thousands of contract workers to do a host of functions — anything from sales and writing code to managing teams and testing products. This year at Google, contract workers outnumbered direct employees for the first time in the company’s 20-year history.

It’s not only in Silicon Valley. The trend is on the rise as public companies look for ways to trim HR costs or hire in-demand skills in a tight labor market. The U.S. jobless rate dropped to 3.7 percent in September, the lowest since 1969, down from 3.9 percent in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some 57.3 million Americans, or 36 percent of the workforce, are now freelancing, according to a 2017 report by Upwork. In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties alone, there are an estimated 39,000 workers who are contracted to tech companies, according to one estimate by University of California Santa Cruz researchers.

Spokespersons at Facebook and Alphabet declined to disclose the number of contract workers they employ. A spokesperson at Alphabet cited two main reasons for hiring contract or temporary workers. One reason is when the company doesn’t have or want to build out expertise in a particular area such as doctors, food service, customer support or shuttle bus drivers. Another reason is a need for temporary workers when there is a sudden spike in workload or to cover for an employee who is on leave.