Amazon and Uber Suggest Delivering Coronavirus Testing Kits. Gig Workers Are Worried.

The suggestion comes as delivery and ride-share drivers are demanding better safety measures and labor protections

Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

TTechnology titans Amazon and Uber this week hinted at separate future plans to deliver coronavirus testing kits in the midst of a national shortage of tests at hospitals and clinics.

On Wednesday, CNBC reported that Amazon Care, the company’s “virtual medical clinic” for Amazon employees, is in talks with Seattle officials to deliver at-home coronavirus testing kits to local residences in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Meanwhile, Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi declared on a Thursday call with analysts that his company is “looking to deliver” tests, but shared no further details.

Neither company has disclosed its plans, nor which agencies they would partner with. An Uber spokesperson told OneZero that specifics about what a testing kit delivery service would look like are not available at this time. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But gig workers, who make up a large percentage of the workforces of both companies — and who as independent contractors are excluded from protections such as paid sick leave, health insurance, and unemployment insurance — are concerned that any such effort would leave them exposed to coronavirus.

“This has to be near the top of the list of really stupid ideas,” Jeff Perry, an Uber and Amazon Flex driver in Sacramento told OneZero. “[Khosrowshahi] can’t even provide drivers with hand sanitizer, and he wants people to trust his company with their health care?”

The suggestion that gig economy delivery services could distribute coronavirus tests comes as gig workers are demanding better safety measures and labor protections — long-standing requests that are exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis. A petition signed by thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers asks the companies to provide two weeks of paid sick leave, compensation for sanitizing materials, and reclassification as employees under California’s Assembly Bill 5.

While office workers at tech companies like Amazon and Uber have been encouraged to avoid exposure to coronavirus by working from home, ride-share drivers have effectively become frontline responders as people forego public transportation or hail an Uber rather than call an ambulance.

Delivering Covid-19 testing kits would further expose gig workers to infection if Uber and Amazon intend to use these drivers.

Gig economy companies have offered these workers little help in dealing with the increased risk of their jobs. Amazon Flex drivers were told to stay home if sick, wash their hands frequently, and inform the company if they had been near a coronavirus patient — mandates that are ultimately helpful, but fail to consider the unique pressures that gig workers face. For Flex drivers, delivery quotas leave little time to sanitize their cars, and Uber drivers may be unable to discern whether a rider is sick if they’re not presenting with symptoms. After these conditions were widely reported, Uber, Lyft, and Amazon said workers could apply for compensation if they were diagnosed with coronavirus or advised by a doctor to self-quarantine. It’s unclear how many drivers have received financial support through these funding programs.

“If they would pay us decently and not do as they do with everything else — and if it was safe for me — I would [deliver testing kits],” said Kimberly James, a Georgia-based driver for Uber Eats and other food delivery platforms.

Perry also said he would consider the task, “but no way would I trust Uber to be the one to pull it off or trust that they are doing their part to ensure my safety.”

Many gig workers have no choice but to hit the road regardless of the danger. Khosrowshahi said ridership has plummeted up to 70% in cities like Seattle where there are now more than 900 confirmed coronavirus cases. On a Thursday call with reporters, Uber and Lyft drivers who signed the labor petition said many are switching to food delivery platforms such as DoorDash because demand is high and human contact is low.

At the moment, Silicon Valley is negotiating the role it will play in the fight against coronavirus. Google and Facebook have launched coronavirus portals, and Amazon pledged $20 million in research funding through its AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative.

Staff writer at OneZero covering social platforms, internet communities, and the spread of misinformation online. Previously: VICE

Sign up for Pattern Matching

By OneZero

A newsletter that puts the week's most compelling tech stories in context, by OneZero senior writer Will Oremus. Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store