No work, no pay: Gig economy workers and coronavirus

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People who deliver food for UberEats and Postmates are part of the gig economy, and they’re worried about how they’ll cope financially during this coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Amy Ta.

While public health officials try to reduce the spread of coronavirus through the closure of workplaces and entertainment venues, gig economy workers are worried about possible financial ruin due to their lapse in work. 

Ruben Gonzalez, a rideshare driver from Long Beach, says he’s only getting a few five-minutes rides per hour since Mayor Eric Garrcetti called for increased social isolation on Sunday. 

Gonzalez  adds that the reduction has cut his income in half. In a typical week, he expects that half his weekly take-home salary would cover his rent and utilities. Now, he’s wondering if he’ll be able to pay his electric bill. 

“I have a family I have to provide food for. I have to do what I have to so I can feed them and keep a roof over our heads,” says Gonzalez

He adds: “It’s constantly on my mind when I'm driving, I sleep, I wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning: How am I going to pay this? How am I going to buy that? How am I going to get enough?” 

Another driver named Jerome Gage says he’s really worried about his health and that of his passengers because they’re sharing a confined space.

To prevent the spread of the virus, he buys hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for passengers, and cleans the car between trips. He also says the supplies are expensive. 

“I know that for every hour I put into working Lyft or providing for passengers’ health and safety, I'm being paid less,” said Gage.  

“I'm finding I have less time because I have to work more hours every day. Right now I'm staying strong, but I don't know how long I can keep this up.”

Despite their best efforts, many drivers are still worried that their precautions won’t be enough and are now petitioning Uber and Lyft to provide sick days to help support drivers through the crisis. 

Gage and Gonzalez both said they are scared they could lose their limited income if they get sick, because they have nothing to fall back on. They added, most drivers live paycheck-to-paycheck and don’t have any money saved up. 

Workers in other industries in the gig economy have been hit hard and are experiencing job loss during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Chloe Cross used to work as a temporary executive assistant at Disney until she found that she would be let go. 

She says that she was upset that the multi-billion dollar media giant couldn’t support her through the end of her contract in May. However, she had managed to save some money aside to support herself. 

She adds that her savings will also have to sustain her for a while because she said that her temp agency had no more jobs coming, 

“[My temp agency] is very worried about [their company] and their work because they've only gotten one job this entire week. People are not hiring right now. They're firing people or, you know, putting them on leave. … It's very unlikely that I will be getting any work,” says Cross. 

Larry Frick, a temporarily out-of-work magician who also works for musicians’ union Local 47, says he’s had a tough time finding work since he was laid off this week. He says he’s looking to food delivery jobs like Postmates to make money. 

His logic: Even if everyone is inside, people still have to eat. 

Many drivers who are on those apps say they are doing really well. They point out that the combination of  the surcharges, the rush of business, and tips has some making over $1000 a week. 

Although the money may be good, Frick says he still isn’t excited about the work due to the risk of exposure to the virus, and he started to feel ill days after losing his job. 

“I hear business is actually doing really well with those. I mean, I'm not particularly happy about that. I feel like it's necessary for me to go out and find employment during this time, I'd rather be at home. I'd rather not be exposing myself in any way at all,” said Frick.