Workplace

Gig workers say companies are failing the families of killed workers

Gig Workers Rising released a report Wednesday on gig worker deaths, citing families who say they haven’t received compensation.

A gig worker rides with an Uber Eats backpack.

Gig workers have been sounding the alarm on the dangers they face for a while now.

Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

More than 50 gig workers have been killed on the job in the United States since 2017, according to a new report from Gig Workers Rising. The report has been over six months in the making, but lead organizer Cherri Murphy said the real research comes from her lived experience: She’s been a Lyft driver since 2017, and has seen the dangers firsthand.

“Driving around without workman's compensation was a looming threat,” Murphy said. “Driving around and not having bathroom access. The picking up of passengers who decided to accost me based on the color of my skin, or stealing my phone and running out in the middle of traffic.”

Upon meeting other drivers, she soon found she wasn’t alone. “This was a systemic problem around workplace violence that needs to be addressed,” Murphy said.

Gig workers have been sounding the alarm on the dangers they face for a while now. Last May, the Gig Workers Collective petitioned the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs to classify gig workers as employees so they would be eligible for workers' compensation and occupational death benefits. Uber and Lyft drivers have demanded more safety protections as violent crime has risen in some cities.

The report (PDF) stems from the dissonance between companies’ public statements of sympathy and some families’ struggles to get compensation or acknowledgement. It dives into several accounts, including that of 26-year-old Isabella Lewis, who was murdered while driving for Lyft. Her family told Gig Workers Rising they never received compensation from the insurance company Lyft works with, Liberty Mutual. Reading Lyft’s condolences in the Dallas Morning News, but never hearing from the company directly, cut deep, Lewis’ family said.

“We appreciate the kind words, but it would have been more heartfelt to receive those words directly as a family from losing our loved one that was in the hands of a company who was supposed to do what they could to protect all their drivers,” the family said in a statement.

Lyft told Protocol it always attempts to reach out to the driver or the driver’s family as soon as a safety incident is reported. After this story was published, Lyft clarified that it attempted to reach out to Lewis' family but failed to make contact.

Sometimes, companies will dispute whether workers were actually on the job when they were killed, such as in the case of Ahmad Fawad Yusufi, a 31-year-old Afghan refugee who in November was killed in the car he drove for Uber. Uber told Protocol that Yusufi was not driving for Uber at the time of his death. His family says Uber is lying to the press.

Of the 50 slain workers, more than 63% were people of color. Murphy said Gig Workers Rising has struggled to collect worker demographic data, as well as injury and death statistics, from companies. “No one’s talking about this; we can’t even get data about what’s happening,” Murphy said. The majority of workers listed in the report were Uber and Lyft drivers, with some delivery drivers from DoorDash, Instacart, Grubhub and Postmates.

The above companies told Protocol they’re constantly working to keep workers safe. They listed existing in-app safety features, such as emergency 911 buttons and direct lines to ADT security agents. Gig Workers Rising called some of these safety features “half-measures,” expressing concern that they might prevent workers from reaching out to law enforcement directly. Regarding compensation, DoorDash cited its free occupational accident insurance, as did Instacart. Uber also referenced its occupational accident insurance, though drivers outside of California must pay for the product. Lyft and Grubhub offer occupational accident insurance only to workers in California. Proposition 22 solidified this type of benefit for California workers, but also classified gig workers as independent contractors. Gig companies poured millions into lobbying for the law, and are now spending big bucks on a similar fight in Massachusetts.

Mandatory binding arbitration clauses are a way companies try to keep death or injury-related claims out of the public eye, Gig Workers Rising said. Several app-based companies have arbitration clauses baked into their terms of service, requiring that certain claims be settled privately rather than through lawsuits.

“No forced arbitration” is one of the four demands at the conclusion of the report. Gig workers are also demanding compensation for affected workers and families, transparent data on injury and deaths and an app-worker union to make gig work safer. The campaign is planning a rally on Wednesday outside Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s mansion, where members will read out the names of killed workers.

“Workers clearly are shut out of safety nets, like worker compensation, despite how dangerous the work is,” Murphy said. “They're left on their own to figure out the strategies to protect themselves. They're murdered on a job, injured on the job, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, and that that needs to change. We need more than just thoughts and prayers.”

Update: This story was updated April 6 to clarify what type of insurance Lyft and Grubhub offer and to include a statement from Lyft.

Policy

Google is wooing a coalition of civil rights allies. It’s working.

The tech giant is adept at winning friends even when it’s not trying to immediately influence people.

A map display of Washington lines the floor next to the elevators at the Google office in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As Google has faced intensifying pressure from policymakers in recent years, it’s founded trade associations, hired a roster of former top government officials and sometimes spent more than $20 million annually on federal lobbying.

But the company has also become famous in Washington for nurturing less clearly mercenary ties. It has long funded the work of laissez-faire economists who now defend it against antitrust charges, for instance. It’s making inroads with traditional business associations that once pummeled it on policy, and also supports think tanks and advocacy groups.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies.

So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way?

Keep Reading Show less
Denelle Dixon, CEO of SDF

Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology.

Workplace

Everything you need to know about tech layoffs and hiring slowdowns

Will tech companies and startups continue to have layoffs?

It’s not just early-stage startups that are feeling the burn.

Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

What goes up must come down.

High-flying startups with record valuations, huge hiring goals and ambitious expansion plans are now announcing hiring slowdowns, freezes and in some cases widespread layoffs. It’s the dot-com bust all over again — this time, without the cute sock puppet and in the midst of a global pandemic we just can’t seem to shake.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Entertainment

Sink into ‘Love, Death & Robots’ and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite picks for your weekend pleasure.

Image: A24; 11 bit studios; Getty Images

We could all use a bit of a break. This weekend we’re diving into Netflix’s beautifully animated sci-fi “Love, Death & Robots,” losing ourselves in surreal “Men” and loving Zelda-like Moonlighter.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Workplace

This machine would like to interview you for a job

Companies are embracing automated video interviews to filter through floods of job applicants. But interviews with a computer screen raise big ethical questions and might scare off candidates.

Although automated interview companies claim to reduce bias in hiring, the researchers and advocates who study AI bias are these companies’ most frequent critics.

Photo: Johner Images via Getty Images

Applying for a job these days is starting to feel a lot like online dating. Job-seekers send their resume into portal after portal and a silent abyss waits on the other side.

That abyss is silent for a reason and it has little to do with the still-tight job market or the quality of your particular resume. On the other side of the portal, hiring managers watch the hundreds and even thousands of resumes pile up. It’s an infinite mountain of digital profiles, most of them from people completely unqualified. Going through them all would be a virtually fruitless task.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories
Bulletins