Viewpoint: More than ever, gig workers deserve basic protections
Appeared in the Albany Times Union: https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Viewpoint-More-than-ever-gig-workers-deserve-15180529.php
During the coronavirus crisis, gig workers are quickly becoming everyday heroes. They are collecting essential medicines, delivering much-needed groceries and even taking the ill to hospital. We’re asking them to meet our needs and risk their own health to do it, but what protections do they have when they are ill? None.
Gig workers are understandably panicking. These are some of the lowest-income workers in the country. Most — 58% — do not have the financial means to cover a $400 emergency. Online forums are busier than ever, and comments follow a similar pattern: “How are people protecting themselves? The only advice I’ve been given is to wash my car. I don’t want to drive, but how else do I pay my bills?”
Without benefits they have a tragic choice: Keep working during a global pandemic or potentially face eviction.
In response to growing concerns, gig companies including Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and Doordash are promising to provide up to two weeks’ pay for those diagnosed with COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. However, this policy does not cover people with symptoms who cannot get tested. Furthermore, drivers are claiming that compensation isn’t being paid. With companies not adequately protecting their workers, federal and state legislators are alleviating the pressure by providing emergency unemployment benefits to gig workers — using our taxes to carry the burden companies refuse to.
There has never been a more telling example of how broken the system of independent work is. Fortunately, there are solutions. These include a minimum wage, protection against unilateral account termination, and portable benefits — a system in which numerous companies contribute toward a worker’s benefits such as health care, life insurance, short-term disability insurance, and paid time off. Discussions in the past few years have broken down due to companies and unions failing to come to an agreement. If they had worked together, we would have averted the current crises.
It is time for unions and companies to stop their harmful squabbling and put workers’ safety first. An agreement must now be made. When we ask workers to risk their lives, we should at the very least ensure they have basic health and income protections.
Owen Ensor and Alissa Orlando lead The IndyHub, an organization supporting independent workers.