On Friday, Senator Mark Warner sent out several letters regarding the economic impact of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, on gig economy workers. Lyft, Uber, Postmates, Grubhub, Instacart, and DoorDash CEOs received letters encouraging financial protections for gig economy workers. Warner suggested creating a pool that workers can pull from if they need to get tested or self-quarantine. All of these companies thrive off the work of independent contractors who lack paid sick leave and often adequate health insurance.
Who’s on the front lines? — As more people sequester themselves in their homes and avoid crowds, food delivery services and rideshares become more appealing. But what about those workers? Warner leads 14 other senators in pushing for financial protections and flexibility for those who likely have the fewest resources to deal with coronavirus exposure.
In the letters to these CEOs, Warner asked the platforms to consider the financial hardship and implement safeguards. He suggested creating a health fund workers could tap into and paying their average weekly rate if they need to be quarantined. He writes: “A health emergency for which they bear no responsibility should not place an undue financial burden on workers and their families.”
What do the companies have to say? — These companies have pushed for more stringent hygiene practices, and Instacart, Postmates, and DoorDash have either implemented or reminded customers of contactless food dropoff options. While these preventative measures are great, until today, there’s been little talk about what happens if their workers get sick.
A DoorDash spokesperson told Input in a statement “We intend to engage with Senator Warner today on innovative solutions to enhance the welfare of Dashers affected by this public health emergency” and reinforced the company’s safety commitments. Sources indicate Postmates is already looking into a healthcare safety net policy as well as other programmatic options, and it’s expected to work with Warner on these next steps.
Uber is also expected to loop Warner in on its plans. A spokesperson told us in an email a team is “exploring compensation for drivers who have been quarantined or diagnosed with coronavirus, whether independently, through a fund, or in partnership with peer companies.” Uber and Postmates’ proactive stance seems surprising given both companies’ resistance to treating their contractors as employees, but there’s nothing like an international crisis to make people acknowledge others’ humanity.
We also reached out to Lyft, Grubhub, and Instacart, and will update this story if they respond. A Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch the company is "ready to coordinate with government officials," but did not explicitly mention financial plans for its drivers. Employees at Lyft's headquarters were told to work from home on Thursday following news of an employee's exposure to someone with COVID-19. Which is great news for them, but doesn't help Lyft drivers, without whom there's be no headquarters to worry about.
Update: A Grubhub spokesperson also indicated an interest in working with the senator and referenced an internal task force working on “the many complicated issues for platform companies arising out of the coronavirus outbreak." They also made no specific mention of the financial implications for the company's contractors.