Gig workers face changing roles and competition in a pandemic

NEW YORK (AP) – There were two hours’ unpaid waits outside the supermarket when San Francisco started locking, above the heavy shopping bags that had to be carried on countless stairs .

And yet, even after registering for several applications, Saori Okawa, 39, still did not earn as much money by delivering meals and groceries as she drove for the transport giant Uber before the pandemic .

“I started juggling three apps to make ends meet,” said Okawa, who recently cut back on working hours after receiving unemployment benefits. “It was really difficult because at that time I couldn’t afford to stay at home because I had to pay rent.”

Okawa is one of some 1.5 million so-called concert workers who make their living by driving people to airports, picking up products from grocery stores, or providing child care for working parents. Their situation was already precarious, largely lacking in guarantees such as the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and health and safety protection.

But with the pandemic hitting the global economy and US unemployment reaching new heights since the Great Depression, workers in concert are clamoring for jobs that often pay less while facing stiff competition from the newly unemployed. are also trying to muster their livelihoods – all while trying to avoid contracting the coronavirus themselves.

Unemployment in the United States fell to 11.1% in June, a depression era level that, although lower than last month, could worsen after a spike in coronavirus cases led states to close restaurants and bars.

Marisa Martin, a law student in California, turned to Instacart when a summer job with the state government as a paralegal failed after a hiring freeze. She said she appreciates the flexibility of choosing her own hours but hopes not to have to turn to work in the future. Remuneration is too volatile – tips vary enormously and sometimes work slowly – to be worth the risk of exposure to the virus.

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“We don’t get paid close enough when we are on the front lines and interacting with several people every day,” said Martin, 24, who temporarily moved in with his parents to save money.

Alexandra Lopez-Djurovic, 26, was a full-time nanny in a New York suburb when one of the parents she works for lost his job while the other saw his hours reduced.

“All of a sudden, as much as they want me to stay, they can’t afford to pay me,” she said. Her own hours have been reduced to about eight a week.

To compensate for the lost wages, Lopez-Djurovic placed an ad offering grocery delivery on a local Facebook group. Overnight, she got 50 responses.

Lopez-Djurovic charges $ 30 an hour and coordinates shopping lists by email, offering benefits that the app companies don’t check the expiration date of milk before choosing the size to buy. However, this does not replace the salary she lost.

“One week, I could have seven, eight, 10 families for whom I was shopping,” said Lopez-Djurovic. “I had a week when I had no money. It really is a challenge. “

Upwork, a website that connects skilled self-employed workers to jobs, has seen a 50% increase in worker and employer registrations since the start of the pandemic, including spikes in e-commerce and service jobs client, said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork.

“When you need to make big changes quickly, a flexible workforce helps you,” he said.

Maya Pinto, a researcher at the National Employment Law Project, said that temporary and contract work increased during the Great Recession and expects many workers to seek such jobs again in the context of the current crisis.

But increased dependence on temporary and contract work will have negative implications for job quality and job security because “it is a way to reduce costs and transfer risk to the worker”, a said Pinto.

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It is difficult to assess the overall state of the concert economy during the pandemic, as some parts grow while others contract. Grocery delivery giant Instacart, for example, has recruited 300,000 new contract buyers since March, more than doubling its workforce to 500,000. Meanwhile, Uber’s business has dropped 80 % in April compared to last year while those of Lyft fell by 75% over the same period.

For food delivery applications, this has been a mixed bag. Although they are getting a bump from restaurants offering more takeout options, these gains are offset by the overall decline in the restaurant industry during the pandemic.

Gig workers are also looking for these jobs on all fronts. DoorDash has launched an initiative to help unemployed restaurant workers register for delivery jobs. Uber’s food delivery service, Uber Eats, increased 53% in the first quarter and about 200,000 people have signed up for the app per month since March, about 50% more than usual.

“The drivers are certainly exploring other options, but the problem is that there are 20 or 30 million people looking for work right now,” said Harry Campbell, founder of The Rideshare Guy. “Sometimes I just joke all you need is a pulse and a car to get approved. But what that means is that it’s easy for other people to get approved too, so you have to compete for shifts. “

Delivery jobs generally pay less than hail jobs. Single mother Luz Laguna earned about $ 25 in half an hour driving passengers to Los Angeles International Airport. When these trips evaporated, Laguna started delivering meals via Uber Eats, working more hours but making less money. The base salary is around $ 6 per delivery, and most people pay around $ 2, she said. To avoid spending more on childcare, she sometimes brings her 3-year-old son to childbirth.

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“It’s our only way out right now,” said Laguna. “It’s difficult to manage, but it’s the only job I can be able to do as a single mother.”

Other drivers find it more logical to stay home and collect unemployment – a benefit they and other concert workers were not entitled to before the pandemic. They are also eligible to receive an additional weekly check for $ 600 from the federal government, a benefit that became available to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Overall, this is more than many riggers did before the pandemic, said Campbell.

But the $ 600 allowance will expire at the end of July, and the $ 2 trillion government relief program that provided unemployment benefits to concert workers will expire at the end of the year.

“So many drivers are going to have to sit down and decide, do I want to put myself and my family in danger once I don’t get government help?” Said Campbell.

Source: AP News

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