CVIndependent

Fri07102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

For one Uber Eats and Grubhub driver, the pandemic has led to more work—but she worries about health and cleanliness, because she can’t access many restaurant bathrooms.

Another Grubhub driver feels safer, thanks to the introduction of contactless delivery—while a DoorDash driver feels threatened by anti-Asian racism, stirred up by certain politicians based on the genesis of SARS-CoV-2.

The Independent recently talked to three Coachella Valley-based restaurant-delivery-app drivers about their jobs, and how things have changed since COVID-19 arrived. Here are their stories, in their own words, edited only for space and clarity.


Fabiana Bragagnolo

I drive for Uber Eats and Grubhub; I’ve been driving since December. I was new to the area, and everything was working really well.

With the pandemic, as soon as it started, I had more work. But then the whole dynamic changed because of the security measures. I used to wash my hands before deliveries. (Before), I was going to the restaurant restrooms, and they were very welcoming. Then all of a sudden, this stopped. It’s not in all the restaurants; some restaurants still have them open. But the majority, especially in Palm Springs—they’re completely locked. You cannot access them.

There two things: One, obviously, I cannot wash my hands. I initially made my own hand sanitizer with alcohol and essential oils, because I couldn’t find any. Second, we are in the desert; we’re supposed to drink a lot of water. We may have to use the restroom at some point. I have to be careful, because I tend to have kidney infections.

One day last week, my kidneys started hurting, and that obviously affected my whole day. I called one of the restaurants in Palm Springs before picking up food to see if I could use the restroom. To be honest, I was almost in tears, because I was in a lot of pain, and I was frustrated. The staff said, “No, let me ask the manager.” The manager said, “No, we’re not supposed to.” It was frustrating. I did that delivery, and then I went home. I live in Desert Hot Springs right now, and this job takes you wherever. It’s affecting me physically. It’s not safe for us; it’s not safe for the customers we deliver the food to, because there’s no washing our hands. Hand sanitizer is fine, but it’s better to wash your hands.

The other day, I went to KFC, and they said, “The restroom is closed.” When I looked at the Grubhub policies online, it says clearly that we are supposed to be using the restrooms. It’s under the COVID-19 guidelines. But Grubhub does not respond to my inquiries. Uber Eats hasn’t, either. It’s, “Sorry, we’ll investigate.” But they don’t. I was talking to a couple of other drivers the other day in Palm Springs; they said the same things. But these are two guys; for guys, it’s easier. They can stop (to use the bathroom) anywhere. (Laughs.) But they said it’s becoming a bit of an issue for them, too.

At times, there has been lot of work—especially early on. It got to the point that I refused jobs because it was too many. Lately, there’s been less work, and tips are a bit lower, too, but it’s all in waves.

Yesterday was a good day. I did only four deliveries, and the customers were very nice. A few people were thanking me for the job that we do. There was a kid in Desert Hot Springs with autism. He came out, and he was the happiest person. However, we don’t get to meet all of the customers anymore, because we have the option to leave an order contactless.

I really enjoy this job. It’s just becoming frustrating. Because I’m new to the area, it’s nice to see all these beautiful spaces. I’m Italian. I was in Detroit before. I lived in Los Angeles, and then I lived for three years in Detroit. I wanted to go back to L.A., but it’s so expensive; I can’t afford it. I’ve always loved this area, the Coachella Valley. I like art. I’m kind of an artist. I love the weather. It’s the landscape, the environment, and the views. So I drove down from Detroit in November. That’s why I do this job as well: I couldn’t find much work, and it’s pretty much paying the bills for now, so it’s good. You have your own hours, which is good, because I’m doing a degree online, so it fits well with my schedule.


Alex Callego

I currently just do Doordash, and I have been driving since December. Obviously, there’s been a huge increase in the demand. I drive here in the desert, and I sometimes drive in other places outside of the desert—in San Diego, particularly. Sometimes I’ll work out there for a week. The adherence to wearing masks and social distancing has been good, for the most part, out here in the desert. People tend to be OK with me asking for zero-contact delivery.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, people were a lot more generous. They knew how heavy this whole thing was, and how much of a burden it is on the economy. At least here in the desert, people were being generous. I was getting $20, $30, $40 tips. This was incredible to me. I was like, thank you. They see the risk that you’re taking when you’re driving and having to be in contact with people—although to be quite honest, delivery is probably the lowest amount of risk that anybody can take as far as anybody “essential.” You’re not having to be cooped up in a building with co-workers, where you’re not sure where they’ve been. I’m just by myself, and the most I have to do is walk into a restaurant and pick up the food.

As for the difference between driving in the desert versus San Diego: Obviously, different counties have different mandates for masks and sheltering in place. I believe that Palm Springs was one of the first places to require it. As far as masks are concerned … (early on in San Diego), I was always wearing masks, and I got these weird looks from people—even kind of mocking looks. It was almost culture shock to have these huge differences in how people were reacting. For me, I believe the more protected you are, the better, so why not take the precaution and be on the safe side? Wear a mask!

As far as the generosity goes—it’s like old money versus new money. A lot of elderly people, they’ve been through certain things, and they’ve seen hardship. For a lot of them, it feels right to reach out and be generous. … Also, here in the desert, we tend to understand (the importance of tipping), because most of us work in hospitality or have friends who work in hospitality, whereas a friend of mine who lives in San Diego made this comment: “Yeah, it’s the city of champagne dreams on beer money.” You see a lot of young people who have money, but they’re not willing to be generous. I had to do a delivery in La Jolla. I drove through all these hills, putting my car through the paces, and this house was overlooking the ocean. For a sandwich that cost the guy $12, from this mom-and-pop deli in University City, I was getting a delivery fee of $6. For a tip, he gave me nothing. … That’s a whole hour; I could have, here in the desert, made $20 in just 30 minutes. So it’s very defeating when you have that happen.

For the most part, I feel safe. There is still that slight anxiety where I feel that I have to keep constantly washing my hands. I have a spray bottle of liquid sanitizer where I can spray down my steering wheel and all of the surfaces that I touch. I even have a bar of soap in my car just in case I need to wash my hands somewhere, and I wear masks all the time. But most of my anxiety stems from the stigmas created by the coronavirus and its origin. For me, being Asian, seeing (discrimination) on the news and the media, and seeing all these physical attacks—I’m Filipino, but we get lumped in together, and it’s very unfair. It’s not fair for Chinese people to have that at all, either. Racism is not good. But that’s one of those things I always see. The president should be a person who denounces hatred and racism. Even though he says he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, he has yet to denounce racism publicly.

I’ve noticed a lot of side eye. I’ve seen certain people (look at me strangely), especially working-class people, which is sad, because working-class areas are where most of the Asians are. I was at a Chipotle picking up an order, and I was going to my car. This other car pulled up; two guys were in there. The passenger got out and was going into Chipotle, but the driver was sitting in the car. He was looking at me, and there was definite disgust in his eyes. He was looking at me—with hatred, almost. I could feel it. And I was like, “I don’t even know you; why are you looking at me like this?” And he would not stop looking at me.

(The lack of bathroom access) has not really been a problem. Like I said, I always carry around sanitizer, so I feel pretty safe if I can’t wash my hands. When I go to a restaurant, if the restroom is available, I will use the restroom and wash my hands before I exit the building. If it’s not, I look for a sanitizing station and use that. And if they don’t have either of those, I immediately use my hand sanitizer. I don’t touch my face anymore. I even won’t eat in my car anymore.

DoorDash is being very conscientious about how they take care of drivers—making sure that their drivers have the proper personal protective equipment. You can order face masks; you can order gloves; you can order hand sanitizer, which is great. It’s very important that we’re protected, and I’m glad that DoorDash is making the effort. And as far as compensation goes, I’ve noticed a little bit of a bump up. They do these things called peak hours, and they’ll add an extra dollar or two. I’ve been pretty happy with how they’ve dealt with all of this, for the most part. I can’t speak about any other delivery companies. There are many of them now, but, yeah, I really hope that this is a wake-up call to all industries in general to treat people better.


Ricky Reidling

I currently work for Grubhub, but I’ve worked for most of the other ones as well: I’ve been doing this off and on for 3 1/2 or four years. Some of the apps are better than others, as far as how they are set up. With Grubhub, the people tend to tip better, versus some of the other ones. For me, it’s a better app.

(Since the pandemic began), well, it’s been quite interesting. I’m sure a lot of the drivers are nervous. For Grubhub, you get to go in and, if you’re lucky, pick shifts that you get to work every week. They would set a time—say, on Saturdays—when you would go in and pick shifts. Most of the time, by the time you got in to pick your shifts, there were no shifts available. Now, it’s literally shifts available every day, because I think there are a lot of drivers not wanting to drive right now.

(Grubhub) has made things easier, as far as no-contact delivery. They have it in the app now where you can request, or the customer can request, for you to leave the food outside the door. Some of the restaurants are doing curbside service, where they actually will bring the food out to you, or if you go in, they are all masked and gloved. Of course, we have to be masked to go into any of the restaurants as well.

As for tipping, it fluctuates. I’ve been lucky with a lot of customers, but I turned on the app today for just a little bit, and one of the customers didn’t even tip. When you look at some of these apps, (customers) want you to go drive a few miles to pick up their food for $3, and use your gas—and then for them to not even tip you, there’s really no advantage to accept an order like that, because it’s not worth it. It’s not worth the wear and tear on your car, the gas, the mileage or anything. … On some of the apps, you do know what you’re being tipped in advance. On Grubhub, you do know what you’re being tipped in advance. … Postmates, to me, is one of the worst, because you don’t even know what your tip is sometimes until a day or two later.

I feel rather safe, because I’m very cautious. I wear my mask when I’m out, and I wash my hands. Sanitizer is always in my car. Anytime I make a delivery, immediately, I sanitize my hands. I’m wiping down my phone constantly—and not having to make any contact with the customers, that makes it a lot easier.

(Regarding a lack of access to restaurant bathrooms): I never really had to come across that issue. I live in Palm Springs. It’s not that busy on the Grubhub app for me. I can go out and deal with (the delivery), come back, and it can be another 30 minutes, an hour or even longer before I get another delivery.

Like I said, (contactless delivery) makes driving a little bit safer—not having to deal with customers one-on-one. You never know what’s going to happen when somebody comes up and opens the door, you know? I like no-contact delivery. Even if COVID wasn’t going on, I’d like that idea. … I hope that the no-contact delivery sticks, because I don’t see any issue in leaving food at someone’s door. The app lets them know when we arrive, and then we also text them to say, “We just left the food at the door,” or we can call them. So, they’ve got all these great options to let customers know that their food is delivered, and it’s right at their front door.

It’s very good these delivery services are available right now. Let me tell you, there are a lot of people who will not go to the grocery store. I do shopping for a senior neighbor of mine; she won’t leave her house. Thank goodness these delivery services are here for people, so they can get food delivered to them. It’s a really good thing right now.

Published in Features

Doctors, real estate agents and hairdressers can keep their independent contractor status—but not truckers, commercial janitors, nail-salon workers, physical therapists and, significantly, gig economy workers, who will gain the rights and benefits of employees in California under sweeping workplace legislation passed this week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has committed to signing the bill, which cleared the Assembly 56-15 in a challenge both to the longstanding trend toward outsourcing labor and to the business model of companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, who have threatened a $90 million fight at the ballot box.

Once signed, AB 5 would upend longstanding employment practices that have seeped into the Democratic presidential debate about how workers should be treated, particularly in today’s gig economy.

“With one clear test across our state labor laws, we will raise the standards for millions of workers and ensure they gain access to critical rights and benefits,” said Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, who presented the bill in the Senate on Tuesday night. “We can make California the global leader in protections for gig workers, janitors, construction workers and so many working people who can’t even pay their rent.”

Lyft spokesman Adrian Durbin said lawmakers missed an opportunity to find a flexible solution for rideshare drivers, and Uber announced it was ready to pour millions more into the ballot fight. “We are fully prepared to take this issue to the voters of California to preserve the freedom and access drivers and riders want and need,” Durbin said.

From the beginning, the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a labor organizer and a Democrat from San Diego, made it clear her goal was to improve wages and workplace standards, and expand the right to collective bargaining at a time of growing income inequality.

She acknowledged more work remains but insisted the legislation is needed to establish a state standard after the California Supreme Court, in a landmark 2018 decision, created a strict test for certifying independent contractors, with the highest hurdle being that the work performed must be outside of the core of the company’s business. It’s commonly referred to as the Dynamex decision.

In advance of the vote, she shared a picture of a sentence plastered to the top of a wall in her office: “The Most Amount of Good for the Most Amount of People.”

California’s pushback against the gig economy intensifies pressure on Silicon Valley flagships such as Lyft and Uber, which were already trading below their IPO share prices amid investor concerns about the difficulty they’ve had turning a profit, despite many millions of users. Uber cut 400 people from its marketing team in July, reported a quarterly loss of $5.2 billion in August and sent layoff notices to another 400-plus workers this week.

On Wednesday, Uber chief legal officer Tony West said in a press call that the company plans to fight the tougher employment test once AB 5 takes effect next year. “We still may pass the test,” he said. “We believe we can pass the harder test.”

But concerns around basic worker protections also have become pressing in California, where one worker in three earns less than $15 an hour; also, the 18.2 percent poverty rate, when the cost of living is taken into account, is rivaled only by that of Washington, D.C. As lawmakers were debating AB 5, in fact, a commission on the future of work, appointed by Newsom, was convening not far away in Sacramento to address such issues as the proliferation of low-wage jobs, automation, artificial intelligence and the gig economy.

Aside from the philosophical questions around AB 5, the state estimates it loses about $7 billion a year in payroll taxes due to worker misclassification that could be supporting schools, roads and other public services. Supporters of the bill argue that by avoiding unemployment insurance taxes and workers’ compensation premiums, businesses shift the burden to the state—and its taxpayers—when workers get laid off, get sick or get injured on the job.

Opponents warned the bill will invite trial lawyers to file frivolous lawsuits against thousands of California businesses and called the bill a blatant power grab by big labor.

“This bill is the union caucus’ main event of the year,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Stone, who held up an exemption request form, obtained by CalMatters, that labor groups had been presenting to industry advocates seeking a carve-out.

Industries as varied as trucking and health care also pushed back, arguing that the legislation would rewrite the rules for independent workers whose status has worked for them for decades.

“AB 5 does not take into account the more than 70,000 California truckers who have built their business around the independent owner-operator model, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in their trucks and have made the decision to run their own businesses,” said Shawn Yadon, CEO of the California Trucking Association, before the bill passed.

Hospitals, too, are worried the bill will not only cause confusion, but may have the unintended consequence of delaying patient services. Gail Blanchard-Saiger, vice president of labor and employment at the California Hospital Association, said although doctors, psychologists and podiatrists are exempt from AB 5, and hospitals employ more than 90 percent of their workforce, many medical professionals such as physical therapists and certified registered nurse anesthetists are contracted at small and rural hospitals where volume is low.

“The impact on the hospital for these health professionals is probably a delay in services, and in particular rural communities, maybe a reduction in services,” said Blanchard-Saiger.

Among the other health professionals not exempt under AB 5: occupational therapist, speech therapist, optometrist, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, radiation therapist, licensed professional clinical counselor, marriage and family therapist, licensed clinical social workers, respiratory therapists and audiology.

In the final weeks of the legislative session, gig companies unsuccessfully campaigned heavily for a new, first-in-the-nation framework that would allow their workers to remain independent while offering a wage floor and some kind of bargaining tool. And on Tuesday, Newsom told The Wall Street Journal that he is still talking to Lyft and Uber, “and regardless of what happens with AB 5, I am committed, at least, to continuing those negotiations.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported potential legislation calling for a new category of workers—to be known as “network drivers”—to cover rideshare and delivery service drivers, guaranteeing at least 1.27 times minimum wage, reimbursement of 30 cents a mile and contributing 4 percent to a Drivers Benefits Fund to purchase workers compensation insurance and other benefits.

Uber and Lyft say the codification of the Dynamex decision—that established a three-part test for certifying contractors—will force them to fundamentally change their hiring practices. It likely means the rideshare industry will take on fewer drivers and assign shifts, giving drivers less flexibility.

Labor representatives called it a scare tactic and said nothing prevents companies from maintaining flexibility for workers.

In shifting to employee status, companies would have to offer basic worker protections such as guaranteed minimum wage, overtime pay, contributions to Social Security and Medicare, unemployment insurance and disability insurance, as well as workers’ compensation, sick leave and family leave. Workers could also get reimbursed for mileage and maintenance of their vehicles, which doesn’t happen now.

The bill triggered several rounds of protest at the Capitol with Uber and Lyft drivers circling downtown Sacramento one day, followed by truckers honking their heavy-duty trucks the next day.

Under the final version of the bill, doctors, dentists, lawyers, architects, engineers, accountants, insurance agents, real estate agents, hair stylists and barbers received exemptions. Travel agents, graphics designers and grant writers will continue to offer their professional services without disruption. Licensed cosmetologists and barbers that set their own rates and schedules won’t change. Commercial fisherman are exempt until 2023. Tow-truck drivers affiliated with the American Automobile Association got a carveout. And freelance writers and photographers can continue, provided they don’t submit more than 35 submissions to an outlet a year.

On the other end, AB 5 captured the industries targeted by labor: gig workers; big-rig, Amazon and other truck drivers; and low-wage services ranging from janitors to home health aides. Unlicensed nail technicians, language interpreters, musicians, strippers and even rabbis could be impacted.

If approved, the bill will take effect in January and gives the state attorney general and large cities the right to sue companies that don’t comply. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer both say they would ensure workers are treated fairly.

“The city attorney welcomes the new authority, and if enforcement action is needed under the new law, he will exercise it,” said Feuer’s spokesman, Rob Wilcox.

During debate before the Senate vote, Republicans sought to include hostile amendments aimed at expanding exemptions for newspapers, physical therapists, the timber industry and more. Each was tabled by Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature.

Gonzalez, however, did agree to exempt the newspaper industry from converting carriers for one year.

“While I personally disagree with this delay, I’m willing to allow the newspaper industry the additional year to comply if it means those delivery drivers and nearly a million other misclassified workers are provided the minimum wage, benefits and workplace rights of Assembly Bill 5,” she said.

A few industries did get the exemption they sought, such as builders and contractors. Peter Tateishi, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of California, said his organization ended up backing the bill after being allowed to contract with other contractors under a business-to-business carve-out.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics