March 25, 2020

Sick pay for coronavirus is hard to come by, gig workers say

By Dara Kerr

On a Monday morning two weeks ago, a San Francisco Uber driver woke up feeling sick. He had a persistent dry cough, scratchy chest, was short of breath and wheezed when he breathed deeply. He knew these were possible symptoms for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, so he re-traced his past few trips. A couple of alarming interactions came to mind, including one passenger who coughed up blood and another who admitted he’d been infected.

San Francisco hadn’t yet become a ghost town with most businesses shuttered and residents hunkering at home under a mandatory “shelter in place” order. People were still out and about. Beauty salons, movie theaters, bars and most corporate offices still teemed with people. The number of coronavirus cases in the city were still scant.

Nevertheless, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, Postmates and other companies had issued advice to their gig workers for avoiding the virus, which as of Tuesday evening had infected nearly 425,000 people and killed nearly 20,000 worldwide. At that time, the companies said they’d assist workers with two weeks of lost income if they were diagnosed with COVID-19. They also told their drivers and delivery people to “wipe down surfaces,” “practice good hygiene” and “stay home” if they felt sick.

Although that meant not earning any money and dipping into his savings, the 60-year-old San Francisco driver, who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, heeded that warning.

“I did exactly what Uber said to do,” the driver said on a phone call that was frequently interrupted by coughing fits. “But Uber is not protecting us.”