An open letter to rideshare and delivery companies: Do more to help drivers through the COVID-19 crisis

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The COVID-19 shockwave is still shaking the foundation of the rideshare and delivery driver community. The companies have said a lot about all the things they’ll do for drivers, and they have suggested ways for you to stay safe … but what have they actually done?

Not nearly enough.

So with that in mind we’ve put together an open letter to the rideshare and delivery companies, which appears at the end of this article. As you’ll see, we covered a lot in the letter, and asked the companies to take steps that would make the lives of drivers safer and as lucrative as possible during the COVID-19 crisis. 

We’re not asking for much. We’re not asking for handouts. But we are asking Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, Instacart, and every other transportation and delivery company to be fair to the backbones of their operations.

The drivers.

The relationship between drivers and rideshare/ delivery companies

Let’s face facts. These companies need drivers. You’re the producers in this game, and without you, they wouldn’t be able to deliver their services. What would their apps be, beyond sophisticated tracking software, without you? Not much. 

Sure, you benefit from having these companies to work for; but you give a lot of yourself to make it happen. That’s never been truer than it is right now.

The unique structure of rideshare and delivery companies relies on a population of gig workers like you. You work for yourself on a freelance basis. You get to choose your hours, but the companies depend on you to keep coming back from day to day.

You can see how much they need you when the companies entice you with bonuses and other perks.

While the arrangement between drivers and the companies works well most of the time, COVID-19 has changed things radically. A new factor, mainly gig workers’ health, has made its way into the cost-benefit analysis of working as a driver. 

Companies acknowledge this risk. But due to the nature of the company-driver relationship, they are also well aware that their liability is somewhat limited. That’s why they may need a little reminding about how much they need their drivers.

Yes, there are benefits to being a rideshare driver. The biggest positive aspect is your freedom, the ability to to choose your own work hours (within reason), and still make decent money. The downside consists of having no unemployment insurance, retirement, or pension funds. As for medical coverage, that isn’t easy to come by either.

Drivers have been working to improve this situation for quite awhile, and now, with the pandemic and its ramifications, the need for companies to consider the needs of their drivers has become glaringly obvious.

What does the company-driver relationship look like under COVID-19 conditions?

The risks for drivers

With a very serious and highly contagious virus making its way through the rideshare population, the risks drivers are taking can be life-threatening. What might happen if you can’t work anymore, either because you’re sick with COVID-19 or have been exposed to it? 

After all, even without any symptoms a driver who’s been exposed needs to be quarantined. The companies will cancel the accounts of drivers the moment they find out they have been exposed to or have tested positive for COVID-19.

Any rational person would understand why the companies must take these conditions into consideration. As for the companies, they should certainly understand the need to take care of their drivers … even if they’re thinking more about other concerns.

The exposure for companies

While drivers fear the risk of catching COVID-19 from being exposed to rideshare customers, the companies fear that if they let a driver keep working, and he or she infects a passenger, they could get slapped with a huge lawsuit.

Although it might not seem right, the companies’ motivations are not just about taking care of their drivers. A lot has to do with limiting their exposure to potential problems down the road.

How can this be fixed?

Once it became apparent that COVID-19 could escalate into a huge problem for the rideshare community, companies started introducing ways to help drivers.

One example is the latest policy updates related to protection from the virus. This included recommending that drivers wear face coverings, and making hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes available to them. 

There have been reports, however, that these “free” supplies are not readily available from the companies. As soon as Uber announced the availability of wipes and hand sanitizer, for instance, the company closed down the greenlight hubs that were supposed to hand the supplies out.

You can read more about the tactics Lyft and Uber have implemented on their websites.

Postmates and DoorDash are two of the delivery companies that have instituted contact-free delivery, whereby drivers deliver food or other items to the customer’s door and leave the packages there, without having any contact with the customer. Drivers typically take a photo before leaving to prove that the goods were delivered.

This method of delivery is compliant with social distancing rules, and it does protect both the driver and the customer … but it’s still not 100% safe. 

Delivery drivers are going into restaurants, touching surfaces, and getting close to workers when the packages are handed over. Thus, the virus could conceivably be passed along from worker to driver to package—where it can survive for hours.

It would be nice, for those who choose to continue driving, to have clear policies that promote social distancing, provide cleaning and protective supplies, and offer a bit of good advice. But there are also other things drivers would like while COVID-19 continues to rage on.

What’s been missing all along—and is sorely needed—is clear communication between drivers and the companies they drive for. That’s why we’re offering this open letter to the rideshare and delivery companies: to help you, as drivers, clarify your needs and get your message across to the companies. Read it over, and then get back to us with other concerns you might want to add to it.

An open letter to rideshare and delivery companies …

Dear rideshare and delivery companies,

It’s not easy for any of us to deal with the strange and scary world the COVID-19 pandemic has pulled us into. We know you have concerns about business, and we do too. When there are lots of rides and people are going about their normal activities, we all benefit and we all make money.

In this circumstance, though, it isn’t happening quite that way. Ridership is way down, and delivery is difficult. Many of us are unable to drive because we are sick, or in quarantine, or at risk of exposing family members. Any of these conditions leads to the same fact: 

We’re not making nearly enough money. 

Your company may be able to pull back on what it spends, but that’s not possible for drivers. We need to pay our rent, put food on the table, and pay other bills NOW. We can’t afford to wait this out.

Here are the issues we need you to address:

Increase driver rates

As drivers, we’ve endured pay cut after pay cut as major rideshare and delivery companies have actually increased their pricing to customers. During this time, we believe drivers should have the opportunity to make a living wage, which is why we believe rates should go back to 2014 levels.

Financial support

Deciding to drive in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis means we have to calculate the risks and possible outcomes if we were to get infected, or have to stop driving for another reason. By choosing to drive, we are literally risking our lives along with the lives of our family members. Business is already reduced so much that it’s hard to pay our bills; what can you do to help us keep making a living wage? 

We understand the government has taken over to some degree, by offering us a chance to get unemployment compensation. This is complicated, and there are many delays involved. Can we get guidance for collecting unemployment under the new CARES Act? Many of us don’t carry health insurance. What happens, even if we just want to get tested for COVID-19? It would be nice if you’d help us cover these costs.

You fought hard to make sure drivers remain independent contractors rather than become employees. But remember: if we get sick, or are scared of getting sick, you’ll lose the people who normally do your driving or delivering. It’s time for you to step up and stand behind us.

If we do get sick with COVID-19, the monetary compensation you offer is nowhere near enough to carry us through an illness of this severity, especially if we develop complications. The most generous of the offers from companies is for two weeks of pay. What if we’re hospitalized, or sick for two weeks and then quarantined for two more? More flexibility and understanding in this area would do a lot to help your drivers and delivery people feel relieved, happy, and loyal to you.

Clearly communicate about policy.

Rumors fly freely during a crisis, and this one is no exception. Can you be more specific about our status as “essential employees?” Many drivers are afraid to go out at all for fear of violating stay-at-home orders, and others wonder what will happen if they’re caught driving after a curfew time.

Is my company sticker in the window enough, or should you provide a document that says it’s okay for me to be out in a car despite the stay-at-home order? If you don’t want to bother with the letter, please at least let us know our sticker, amp, or branded bag will be enough to satisfy the needs of authorities who might stop us.

These restrictions seem to be changing all the time, so knowing the rules we have to work with, from the companies we work for, would help immensely.

Show concern for our health and safety.

Even in the event we do have some business, we worry about our health and safety. You say you’ll provide us with supplies we can use to protect ourselves, such as masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, but it seems impossible to get those items from you. So, we’re having to use our own money to buy those items—from earnings that have already drastically declined. 

We understand that you’re not doing so great now either, but the fact is you have more and better resources for procuring these things than we do. We’d like to see more consistent instructions about where to pick up the supplies you’re already distributing. 

It would be wonderful if you were to deliver the supplies in accordance with the promises you make in all the PR-focused news articles we’re reading.

Show appreciation for your drivers.

When the world isn’t normal (like right now), customers who use rideshare and delivery services start making requests that make our jobs harder. We often get put in a tough position, especially with people coming into our cars and getting closer to us than they should.

A simple email thanking us for taking the risk to drive, or telling us what we can do to stay safe, would be a welcome morale booster, but it’s not enough. Hazard pay, considering the risks we take driving in these conditions, would be appropriate. It also wouldn’t hurt for you to remind customers how much of a chance we’re taking, and maybe encourage them to keep their distance and tip more than usual. 

Best regards,

Review your situation

If you’re skeptical about whether the companies will ever read or hear about your concerns, you’re probably not far off the mark. However, just seeing some of the concerns that are important to you in writing might be enough to get you thinking, and taking action to ask for what you need—and deserve. At least we hope so.

Gridwise will be addressing more driver concerns about working (or not) in the COVID-19 environment. Look for future articles about payments, protecting your mental health, and other alternatives for work as we all wait for the rideshare and delivery world to return to its normal state.

Make sure you download and stick with the Gridwise app, too. We always strive to provide information and tools that will make your job easy, interesting, and profitable.

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