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Senator urges Uber, Lyft, Instacart and others to offer gig workers financial security in light of COVID-19 concerns

Megan Rose Dickey

While some gig economy companies have already taken steps to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among its workers, Sen. Mark Warner (VA) is encouraging them to go further and consider ensuring workers don't face financial consequences as a result of the virus.

"I strongly urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for your workers if they are sick or have to self-quarantine during this time," he wrote. "In order to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that platform companies lead by example by committing that economic uncertainty will not be deterrents to their workers following public health guidance during the response.”

In separate letters to Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Postmates, Grubhub and DoorDash, Sen. Warner laid out a couple of ideas. The first entails creating a special coronavirus health fund that would be available to gig workers if they need to take time off to get tested or self-quarantine. The other idea is to pay workers their regular average pay, even if they can't work their normal average hours.

"A health emergency for which they bear no responsibility should not place an undue financial burden on workers and their families," he wrote.

Uber, in a statement to TechCrunch, said it is exploring options to compensate drivers who may be affected.

"We have a dedicated global team, guided by the advice of a consulting public health expert and public health organizations, working to respond as needed in each market where we operate around the world," an Uber spokesperson said. "This team is also exploring compensation for drivers who have been quarantined or diagnosed with coronavirus, whether independently, through a fund, or in partnership with peer companies. We will keep the Senator updated about our plans and will respond directly to his letter."

In a statement, a Lyft spokesperson said the company appreciates Sen. Warner’s leadership but did not explicitly mention potential compensation.

“We are focused on taking appropriate actions and are actively planning for multiple scenarios,” the Lyft spokesperson said. “We stand ready to coordinate with government officials.”

DoorDash, meanwhile, says it plans to engage in with Sen. Warner today about "innovative solutions" that help to enhance the welfare of DoorDash's delivery workers.

"DoorDash's task force is actively working to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to protect the safety of our entire community in response to the spread of COVID-19," a DoorDash spokesperson said. "We will continue to provide the latest public health guidance to consumers, Dashers, and merchants and remind our community in affected areas of the delivery instruction feature, enabling requests for food to be left at the door along with a photo of where the food should be left through the app."

Postmates, which recently set up contactless delivery options, says it will continue to share information with its fleet of workers as the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evolves. Additionally, Postmates said it plans to brief Sen. Warner's office with its plans to "invest in the well being of our flexible workforce."

"Community health and safety is paramount at Postmates, and we continue to issue in-app,  precautionary CDC guidance with those carrying out deliveries so that they are aware of the latest preventative measures," a Postmates spokesperson said in a statement. "Postmates also announced today an option to designate drop-off of an item without contact; and we will continue to encourage employees, merchants, consumers, and all parts of our community to follow safety protocols  such as washing hands and staying in if you are sick."

GruhHub, similarily, also says it's focused on the health and safety of its drivers, customers and restaurant partners.

"We share Senator Warner’s concerns about the safety and welfare of our drivers and look forward to working with the Senator on these important issues," a GrubHub spokesperson said in a statement,

Instacart says it's working with local and national authorities to ensure it's operating safely, an Instacart spokesperson told TechCrunch. Instacart is also "taking the appropriate precautionary measures to keep teams, shoppers and customers safe."

This focus on the response of gig economy companies comes at a time when many of them are trying to combat a new California gig worker protection law, which would make it harder for these companies to classify workers as independent contractors. If classified as W-2 employees, they would have access to things like health care and paid time off.

Outside of the gig economy, companies like Microsoft and Facebook have been more proactive in this area. Microsoft, for example, has committed to paying hourly workers their regular wages even if they are unable to work as a result of COVID-19 concerns. Facebook, shortly after Microsoft's announcement, committed to paying its contingent workers who cannot work during this time of concern. SXSW has also just recently cancelled its conference.