Uber driver Johan Nijman wears a protective mask as he sits in his car in the Queens neighborhood, as coronovirus disease (COVID-19) will continue to spread until August 5, 2020 in New York, US. REUTERS / Tina Bellone
Nijman is one of thousands of Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc drivers across the United States, choosing between $ 600 in physical and financial health risks in additional weekly unemployment assistance termination.
While drivers are not just struggling workers, they are particularly vulnerable because their work keeps them close to many strangers. Furthermore, as independent contractors, they have no formal protections or benefits that employees enjoy.
“I never thought that after working for so long I would ever find myself in a situation where I had to ask for food one day,” Nijman said.
Type 2 diabetes put him at high risk for severe COVID-19 when Nizhman stopped driving in mid-March when the virus raged through New York City. Prior to the epidemic, he earned some $ 1,500 per week for Uber’s high-end black car service in an SUV when he signed up in 2017.
He applied for unemployment and received about $ 900 in weekly benefits – some $ 300 from the state and $ 600 from the federal government. City-governed liability insurance should barely cover its expenses, including drivers.
Without an additional $ 600, Nijman said he faces financial ruin by putting his car and home in line.
Other drivers, such as Sacramento-based Melinda Pualani, still waiting for their unemployment claims to process, are overwhelmed by the plethora of agencies’ applications.
“Driving was simply a necessity again because I used most of my savings and still had to keep food on the table,” Pualani said.
He resumed driving again last week, slamming down windows, thoroughly disinfecting his car after every trip and asking passengers to wear masks.
The federal epidemic pay offered a lifeline to many gig workers who are not eligible for general unemployment insurance. Uber and Lyft advocated for US lawmakers to include gig workers in the taxpayer-funded March coronavirus virus bill, and workers remained eligible for state-based aid.
There is currently no data available on the share of gig workers among the 30 million Americans who are collecting unemployment. But the increased $ 600 salary was withheld last week and US lawmakers have to insist on how to increase it.
Uber and Lyft have provided masks and disinfectants to the drivers. They also provide two weeks of financial assistance to virus-infected drivers or order quarantine.
Trip requests fell 80% in April and remained well below pre-year levels. Uber and Lyft are expected to report the results later on Thursday and Wednesday respectively.
For parents, time is particularly difficult.
Single mom Denise Rozier, a Lyft driver in Austin, Texas, was burned by her savings and contracted the virus in April. Alone and struggling to breathe, he worried that he would not recover.
“I worry a lot, but really need to go back (to work) with starting and spending school,” she said. “I don’t want to endanger my safety, but I don’t want to depend on my family.”
Rozier is also afraid to bring the virus into his family or to contract it again.
But she is also afraid to refuse passengers to wear masks. Uber and Lyft have made masks mandatory for drivers and passengers, but several driver dash videos posted online show heated arguments with riders refusing to wear one.
Queen-based Nijman said, “I wish those in power looked for people who never shake hands.”
Reporting by Tina Bellone in New York; Editing by Ben Kelman and Peter Henderson