As cities like San Francisco rapidly unveil emergency orders to protect the health of essential workers employed by delivery apps, three companies — DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart — are trying to keep pace by unveiling their own shopper- and driver-oriented policies.
Doctor on Demand, a leader in the telehealth industry, recently took DoorDash on as a client. Contract workers with DoorDash can now take online risk assessments for COVID-19. Postmates has taken similar steps in using telemedicine, while also plotting the distribution of hundreds of thousands of face masks to couriers. And Instacart now has in-app shopper wellness checks so shoppers can monitor their health during the pandemic.
The health measures are meant to help the crush of gig workers flocking to the apps as mass layoffs cripple the country’s small-business industry. Postmates has seen an 84% national increase in new workers. Instacart recently announced it is planning to add 250,000 more shoppers, which means the company will have grown its shopper network by 250% in just one month.
When including its partnerships with Postmates and DoorDash, along with a slew of big-box retail companies and airlines, Hill Ferguson, the CEO of Doctor on Demand, said his telehealth company saw its online doctor visits double from February to March. The numbers will continue to increase during the pandemic, he said, as the nation’s gig economy grows.
“If there’s a silver lining to this crisis, it’s that the whole country sees these delivery workers as essential workers. They’re getting this recognition that they deserve,” he said.
Along with the telehealth benefits, Postmates just started a program letting couriers apply for funds through the company to cover medical expenses related to COVID-19. Postmates is calling the program “the industry’s first emergency family care relief policy.”
All of the country’s major on-demand delivery companies employ gig workers, which are independent contractors who do not usually receive employer-paid benefits like health insurance and contributions to their retirement plans.
Their new offerings come as California has increasingly pushed companies to treat gig workers as employees, not contractors. AB5, a law that took effect in January, makes it harder for companies to claim workers are independent contractors. DoorDash, along with Uber and Lyft, is backing a ballot initiative that would partially overturn AB5. Workers and local officials have also sought to challenge the companies’ policies, with health benefits amid the pandemic a growing focus of concern.
To some gig workers, the avalanche of new health-related policies are meant to look like gestures of goodwill to the public, but still fall short of meeting the needs of actual drivers, shoppers and couriers.
In the weeks after Postmates announced its “fleet relief fund” in March, which is meant to help drivers during the pandemic, there were reports of drivers receiving as little as $30. Postmates does not provide insurance to its drivers, and even with insurance, the $30 is unlikely to cover the cost of a driver’s visit to a doctor.
Postmates officials responded to the reports by stating the $30 was paid to drivers concerned with having coronavirus symptoms, but had yet to be formally diagnosed with the virus. Meanwhile, many Instacart workers that staged a nationwide strike in March, demanding hazard pay, sick leave and cleaning supplies, are still waiting for the health and safety kits promised to them this month, according to reports.
The complaints also come as self-employed workers struggle to collect unemployment benefits. The $2 trillion Cares Act makes it possible for gig workers to qualify for $600 in weekly benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program through July. But many are saying the application process hasn’t been easy. Adding to the confusion, California has encouraged gig workers to file claims as if they were employees, with state officials determining if they should have been eligible for regular unemployment benefits.
San Francisco has been aggressive in its approach to protecting gig workers with on-demand delivery companies over the last few weeks. City officials issued an emergency ordinance this month requiring, among other things, that the companies provide protective equipment to workers. If the workers purchase the items on their own, delivery companies must reimburse them.
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