2020 Was a Disastrous Year for Uber Drivers
This year, the plight of gig drivers went mainstream
In early March, a sick man tumbled into the car of a San Francisco Uber driver, asking to be taken to the nearest hospital. “I think I’ve got Covid-19,” the passenger said before coughing up blood in the back seat. It wasn’t long before the driver became ill himself, he told OneZero in March. He was tested for the coronavirus, and doctors prescribed a rescue inhaler along with instructions to self-quarantine. But as he awaited the results, the driver worried over days of lost income and how to make ends meet.
Throughout the shutdown, thousands of Uber drivers and other gig workers have been thrust onto the front lines of the pandemic. They’ve delivered necessary supplies, warm meals, and rides to and from the doctor’s office. These individuals are unquestionably essential. Yet, as independent contractors, they are among the nation’s least-protected workers, lacking employer-paid benefits such as health care and sick leave, while being expected to endure an unprecedented crisis.
In 2020, a series of events brought the plight of gig workers to the mainstream. Uber in particular, which had long championed gig work as a “side hustle,” began leveraging the essentialness of its drivers, setting plans into motion for a third kind of worker — not an employee and not a traditional contractor — the consequences of which we’re likely to see in years to come.
Throughout the shutdown, thousands of Uber drivers and other gig workers have been thrust onto the front lines of the pandemic.
In early March, Uber announced a “sick-leave fund,” allowing drivers to be compensated for 14 days of missed income. “This is a moment of great challenge, but we are here to support you,” Uber said of the program on its website. The assistance was a paltry concession for many drivers who pointed out its conditional nature, requiring applicants to have contracted the virus while also possessing the energy to navigate Uber’s glitchy, complex, and automated application system. To add insult to injury, it demanded drivers acknowledge that the program was in no way evidence of employment.