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San Francisco Says Coronavirus Has Made Gig Economy’s Labor Abuses Untenable

"Denying workers their rights during a public health crisis is immoral, irresponsible, and we cannot and will not stand for it.”

by Edward Ongweso Jr
Mar 25 2020, 8:06pm

Bloomberg / Contributor

On Tuesday, San Francisco lawmakers introduced a resolution condemning “app-based employers” such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Postmates for illegally misclassifying their employees as contractors, calling for emergency injunctive relief in addition to enforcement of Assembly Bill 5.

In a press conference with San Francisco Supervisors Gordon Mar, Matt Haney, and Rafael Mandelman, alongside gig workers and representatives from labor coalitions like Jobs with Justice San Francisco, We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising, speakers laid out the rationale behind the resolution.

“By not complying with AB5 and misclassifying their employees as contractors, gig companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have been putting drivers and passengers at risk during the coronavirus era and long before,” said Edan Alva, a Lyft driver for five years and an activist within Gig Workers Rising. “These large corporations are preying on the most vulnerable population while utilizing them as a workforce by paying them less than minimum wage, exposing them to significantly enhanced risks, and yet not providing them with basic worker protections required by law.”

Passed in September, Assembly Bill 5 is a California law that imposes a test to determine whether workers have enough autonomy to be declared independent contractors, or are actually employees being deprived of rights and benefits. The law also gives city attorneys the power to take companies violating the law to court and force reclassification of their workers, as has already been done with Instacart in San Diego. In a series of desperate attempts to avoid the same scrutiny and outcome, Uber has changed its app in California to give the appearance of more driver autonomy, launched a $110 million ballot initiative to kill AB5, and written a letter to Trump begging for a third category with the “flexibility” of contractors and only some of the “social benefits” of employees.

“This resolution is calling for a few things, things that should be very basic. One is we are simply asking that California enforces the law—that we actually start to classify gig workers correctly,” Supervisor Harney added. “Second, workers in these companies should be given the same rights and privileges as any other worker ... We are demanding that state officials protect gig workers during this pandemic by fully enforcing AB5 and ensuring workers have access to benefits like paid sick leave, disability, family paid leave, and unemployment insurance.”

“Lastly, we need to make sure there are minimal standards—basic foundational standards—for health and safety guidelines for these workers,” added Supervisor Harney. “If they are coming in and interacting with customers on a regular basis, dropping things off and picking things up, they need to be given access to cleaning supplies. They need to be supported if they do get sick, they need to have workers compensation benefits if they’re exposed in some way to the virus.”

The collective refusal of these gig platform companies to comply with AB5 and stop classifying their employees as contractors has created a public health crisis. Gig workers are pushed to constantly risk exposure precisely because they can’t afford to stay home, but they’re also a group of workers unable to afford getting sick either in terms of treatment or being suspended from their platforms for weeks.

“Paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, and family medical leave aren’t just nice to have, they’re the difference between workers being able to feed their families or not—and during this pandemic, they’re essential to public health,” said Supervisor Mar, who wrote the resolution.

“Denying workers their rights during a public health crisis is immoral, irresponsible, and we cannot and will not stand for it.”

Tagged:
san francisco
labor
uber
gig economy
Lyft
Postmates
DoorDash
Instacart
AB5
gig work
COVID-19
paid sick leave