SF supervisors push for more gig worker protections during the coronavirus pandemic

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors is pushing a number of legislative bodies to offer more protections and benefits for gig workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As gig workers are still out delivering food to people and providing rides, supervisors are asking the SF Office of Labor Standards Enforcement to establish enforcement procedures in compliance with Assembly Bill 5, which outlines what types of workers can be legally classified as independent contractors.

This resolution, which Gig Workers Rising and We Drive Progress advocated for the board of supervisors to adopt, comes after Gig Workers Rising urged California lawmakers to enforce AB 5. Earlier this month, Gig Workers Rising sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials asking them to step in and protect workers during this pandemic.

“These companies have been putting drivers and passengers at risk during the coronavirus era and long before,” rideshare driver and Gig Workers Rising member Edan Alva said on a press call today. “These large corporations are preying on the most vulnerable populations.”

He added that drivers often work paycheck to paycheck and therefore have no ability to save money.

“Without health insurance and sick days, we are left with the impossible choice when we get sick,” Alva said. “Drive sick and put ourselves and passengers at risk or stay at home and lose the roof over our heads, our car and our livelihood.”

The supervisors are also asking for both SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to seek injunctive relief to prevent misclassification of workers as they seek paid sick leave and unemployment insurance.

Additionally, the board of supervisors wants the Department of Public Health to implement minimum health and safety guidelines for ride-hail drivers and delivery workers. Lastly, they want California Labor Secretary Julie Su to offer guidance around accessing benefits for gig workers during this time.

The supervisors outline how, without help, gig workers “face many uncertainties, including housing and food insecurity, no access to health care, exposure to COVID-19 without safety training, sanitation and protective equipment…” Meanwhile, gig economy companies “continue to flout our state and city laws, leaving their misclassified employees without access to unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, medical benefits, workers’ compensation, and other crucial benefits…,” the resolution states.

On a press call today, Supervisor Gordon Mar said denying workers their rights during a public health crisis is “immoral.” Fellow Supervisor Matt Haney added that it’s critical every measure is taken to protect public health.

“Many of us are being told to have your food delivered, have your food dropped off,” Haney said on the press call. “Having workers at these companies is actually becoming essential for us to operate during this time, but at the same time we are not treating these folks fairly…we are putting them in even more marginalized and vulnerable positions economically.”

In many ways, Haney said, gig workers are performing emergency response jobs during this crisis — delivering food to people who can’t go out to the store or driving people from point A to point B.

It’s not that companies like Uber, DoorDash and Instacart have done nothing. Some have offered up to two weeks’ worth of sick leave, for example. But it’s that they’re not doing enough.

“TNCs were designated by Governor Newsom as an integral part of critical transportation systems necessary to deliver essential services during this national emergency,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement. “Lyft is playing a crucial role in delivering essential services during this pandemic by connecting people with vital services and goods. Attempting to force TNCs to adopt an employment model in the midst of this crisis would result in the widespread elimination of work for hundreds of thousands and the immediate interruption of essential services for vulnerable populations. It will hurt drivers and at-risk communities at a time when they need our services most.”

On the press call, however, driver Mekela Edwards expressed some concern about Lyft’s healthcare initiatives. Edwards pointed to how drivers are not properly equipped with the skills or training patients might need on their way to the hospital.

“And we definitely don’t have protections such as masks or gloves or things in case we have to help a passenger get in and out of the car,” Edwards said. “As a driver, it really should be something that is looked at closely before a company touts that that’s what they’re offering.”

Meanwhile, there are reports from Uber drivers that their requests for paid sick leave are getting rejected. TechCrunch has reached out to Uber to learn more about that. We’ll update this story if we hear back.

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