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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a group of California Lyft drivers is accusing the company of forcing them to buy their own personal protective equipment for protection instead of providing them with enough to do their jobs safely. Though the drivers acknowledge that Lyft has provided some free PPE, they say it hasn’t been sufficient for them to do their jobs safely.
Currently, California law requires companies to provide PPE to employees, but not independent contractors. Gig app companies including Uber, Lyft, Doordash, GrubHub, Instacart, and Postmate classify their drivers, shoppers, and couriers as independent contractors rather than employees.
In late July 2020, about 100 Lyft drivers from the Bay Area staged a protest, during which they passed out free PPE to their peers who can’t afford to buy their own. It took place after a company blog post stated that Lyft would sell cleaning supplies, face masks and partitions to its drivers via its new online store.
Lyft told CNN Business it spent $2.5 million on free PPE for its drivers back in May and has since provided tens of thousands of drivers with free reusable face masks and cleaning supplies.
Quoted by CNN Business, Jerome Gage, Los Angeles Lyft driver, said the company began offering free PPE kits containing one reusable mask and a small bottle of sanitizer about two months ago, but the kit supplies were never sufficient.
“I remember receiving an email and they said I could come down to the hub in LA and pick up PPE at no cost. You could only pick it up once a week and what they gave us wouldn’t last that long.”
Reportedly, a Lyft spokesperson said: “We continue to distribute free cleaning supplies and face masks at [the Oakland] hub today. The Lyft Store is an additional resource to provide millions of drivers across the US easy access to cleaning supplies and face masks that have consistently been difficult to find.”
This protest is the latest conflict in an ongoing labor rights dispute between rideshare workers and the previously mentioned companies.
Both union advocates and the gig app drivers they support say these companies are hesitant to provide adequate PPE to their workers given that they don’t want to recognize the workers as employees. Because if they do so, the companies would be required to pay for additional benefits, including sick leave and employer-funded unemployment and health insurance.
And even though AB5 was signed earlier this year by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the gig app companies have been fiercely fighting back on it. Uber and Lyft haven’t complied with the new law since it went into effect in January, resulting in the Attorney General’s office filing a lawsuit against both companies back in May.