Delivery and ridehailing workers lack critical protections from coronavirus

UC Santa Cruz survey spurs SF LAFCo call for immediate action

Photo of Chris Benner
Chris Benner, a professor of sociology and environmental studies and director of the Institute for Social Transformation, led the research team that surveyed app-based delivery and ridehailing workers. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Preliminary data released today (April 21) to the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission (SF LAFCo) provides a disturbing snapshot of what app-based delivery and ridehailing workers are confronting with COVID-19, and demonstrates the urgent need for the city and platform companies to take more immediate actions to protect this vulnerable workforce.

According to the results of an online survey, conducted for SF LAFCo by a research team led by UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Benner, on-demand workers are struggling financially, with more than half losing 75-100 percent of their weekly earnings on the apps since February. Given this financial insecurity, nearly one third reported they still accepted jobs despite their fears of spreading or contracting the virus.

Workers surveyed are largely dissatisfied with how the platform companies have responded to COVID-19, with only one quarter reporting the apps are doing enough to protect them. More than two-thirds reported the apps are not providing training and information on how to protect themselves and their customers.

Highlights of survey results include:

  • 58% report not getting gloves and sanitizing products from the apps;
  • 81% report that platform companies are not requiring customers to report that they are sick before they accept the job;
  • 73% report that the apps are not providing financial support if they are exposed to or contract COVID-19.

One worker wrote, “It’s Door Dash and they’re basically just saying ‘Try not to die!” Another driver wrote, “Rides should be only for essential workers going to and from work, as well as essential needs, not just anybody going anyplace. We are not prepared or trained for health care, should not be taking people as medical transport.”

Two thirds of those surveyed wanted public officials to take the following actions in response to COVID-19, given that they think platform companies are not adequately protecting them:

  • Provide free sanitizer, gloves, and other protective equipment;
  • Provide emergency financial assistance;
  • Enforcement of laws to ensure they have access to unemployment, paid leave, and other benefits of city and state laws.

"App-based workers have long struggled to have their rights recognized as employees and now are struggling to get basic protections from COVID-19 as they provide essential services to SF residents," said LAFCo Chair and Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. "Locally and at the state level, we must hold these companies accountable for protecting their workers, and I am proud of this groundbreaking study for bringing these issues to light.”

"These frontline workers are in dire financial straits, and their work exposes them to the public and coronavirus," said LAFCo Vice Chair Cynthia Crews-Pollock. "If these app companies continue to shirk their responsibilities to protect workers, the city should take action to compel them to do so.”

The Board of Supervisors will vote today on LAFCo Commissioner and Supervisor Matt Haney’s legislation requiring platform companies take measures to protect the health and safety of on-demand food delivery employees.

The UC Santa Cruz survey was conducted online between April 8-20 with 219 responses. Forty-one percent of those surveyed are primarily working on food and/or grocery delivery apps, 32% are working on ridehailing apps, and the rest are former app workers who are not currently working because of the pandemic. The survey is part of a larger study that SF LAFCo commissioned to examine the working conditions of app-based workers. The citywide in-person survey was suspended when the Bay Area went into shelter in place, and Benner’s research team pivoted to creating an online survey intended to measure the impact of coronavirus on this frontline workforce. The results from the initial survey, coupled with the online survey results, will be released next month.

The survey and broader study is funded by SF LAFCo, the San Francisco Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Chavez Family Foundation. The Local Agency Formation Commission is an independent regulatory body that has oversight authority over CleanPowerSF, the city’s community choice energy program, and conducts special studies. It’s governed by a five-member commission that includes three members of the Board of Supervisors, Chair Sandra Lee Fewer, Gordon Mar and Matt Haney, a public member, Vice Chair Cynthia Crews-Pollock, and alternative public member Shanti Singh.