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Rideshare and Delivery Workers Deemed Essential but Companies Insist They are Not Employees. 

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Uber cofounder and former CEO Travis Kalanick with driver Muneeb Rehman in 2016. Photo courtesy of Muneeb Rehman. Rehman is the executive director of the #DriversUnite movement.

Muneeb Rehman has been driving for Uber in New York for almost a decade, but the global pandemic has left him and his family struggling to pay the bills.

Rehman tested positive for COVID-19 in early April, shortly after New York’s shelter-in-place order. He believes he contracted the virus from a rider before the shutdown. Now, both he and his wife are faced with health repercussions from the virus and financial instability.

The pandemic has forced many gig workers like Rehman into an impossible choice — give up their source of income, or continue working and risk exposing themselves to the virus. App-based companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and Doordash classify their workers as independent contractors, not employees, under the guise that they are an app-based platform focused on technology and “innovation.”

But independent contractor status means that gig workers are not eligible for workplace protections such as the right to minimum wage and overtime, paid sick leave, disability insurance, and unemployment insurance. And for many drivers, leaving the company is not an option.

“The driving profession has been taken over by Uber,” said Rehman. “I can leave right now and work for some other company, but because (Uber) comes up with such cheap offers for the riders, they have most of the work.”

Uber has offered some financial support to its workers — mostly geared towards those who have contracted the virus, but Rehman said when he finally received a check it only covered about a quarter of what he would normally earn while driving for the app. He also has not received any personal protective equipment (PPE), even though Uber promised to distribute tens of millions of masks in early April.

“(Companies) send some disinfectant here, maybe some masks there…but they’re not doing it like they promised. Essential workers are not being provided existential protections in the workplace,” said Edward Escobar, founder of the Alliance for Independent Workers and leader of the #DriversUnite campaign.

Last month, several jurisdictions including the state of New York, the City of Los Angeles and the City of San Francisco, ordered all essential businesses to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers.  Lyft, Uber and Doordash pledged to provide PPE to its workers, but delivery has been spotty and companies blame delays on supply shortages.

But the global pandemic has only exacerbated a longstanding debate: whether gig workers should become employees, or remain independent contractors.

Just a few months ago, California passed Assembly Bill 5, a landmark bill which makes it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors. The law was specifically targeted at apps like Uber, Lyft and Doordash which immediately began lobbying for a ballot measure that would overturn the legislation, and pledged $90 million dollars to get the measure passed in 2020.

On the curtails of the new legislation, Attorney General Javier Becerra announced last week he was suing Uber and Lyft over “allegedly misclassifying hundreds of thousands of drivers, depriving them of worker protections and access to safety net programs.”

“AB 5 has been given a bad rap because corporations are against it, and they are the ones that have been using and abusing the misclassification for their benefit — to make millions if not billions of dollars. Of course they want to keep it the way it is,” said Escobar, adding that many gig workers believe that AB 5 will automatically classify them as employees and take away their freedom — but that is not necessarily the case, he says.

“The problem is is that most of these folks out there are called independent contractors but are treated less than part-time minimum wage employees,” said Escobar. “A majority of gig workers…they are enamored with the concept of an independent contractor, but many of them have never been an independent contractor. They’ve never tasted how sweet it is when you set your own rates, terms and conditions.”

While rideshare drivers are struggling because of the decline in traffic, app-based delivery services are still seeing steady demand. In California, Uber Courrier William received a bundle of personal protective equipment from the company about one month after he was prompted by an automated message. The bundle included five masks, one bottle of disinfectant wipes, and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Uber courier William displays the bundle of personal protective equipment he received from Uber. The company sent out emails offering free supplies in early April, but William said he received the package one month after he submitted a request.

Despite the empty streets and good business, William said he has been avoiding working for the app because of the risks he faces when exposing himself to long lines and crowded storefronts.  “It’s really stressful…there is one restaurant in (San Francisco) that I refuse to go to because people don’t social distance there,” he said.

But William says that he is overall pleased with working for the app. “I kind of do get to set my price because I pick and choose the orders that I can take,” he said. “This is how I pay my bills — but I do it because of the freedom that it allows me. At the same time I recognize that I’m younger I don’t have any health problems and I don’t have any kids.”

Escobar says that gig workers don’t necessarily need to become employees to be treated fairly. “We believe both options can exist side by side. They can change their business model, pivot it, relinquish some of the controls let the drivers set their own rates, terms and conditions so they can have independent contractors alongside employees,” he said.

Activism

Alameda County Awards $4 Million in Grants for Licensed Early Care & Education Providers 

“Childcare keeps Alameda County working, and these awards are one step to supporting equity and social justice in a field where the workforce is held predominantly by women of color,” said Ford. Since March 2020, the Alameda County Emergency Child Care Response Team (ECCRT), a cross-sector collaborative of eight county-wide stakeholder agencies, has convened and concentrated its efforts to plan and align its immediate County COVID-19 response to support the ECE field.

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Women of color dominate the workforce providing childcare. iStock photo image.
Women of color dominate the workforce providing childcare. iStock photo image.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved the distribution of $4 million in one-time federal relief grants to support local Early Care and Education (ECE) system needs and infrastructure made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“The COVID pandemic has highlighted the critical role of childcare in the United States and especially in Alameda County. Childcare is a key economic driver for families, employers, and communities to thrive,” said Supervisor Keith Carson, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

To apply for grants, licensed childcare providers will be required to complete a general County online application to verify they are currently active, licensed and providing care. Applications are available in the County’s threshold languages and can be found at this link.

The application portal for federal relief funds will be promoted by local resource and referral agencies like BANANAS, 4Cs and Hively, First 5 Alameda County, Emergency Child Care Response Team and the ECE Planning Council.

Large Family Child Care (FCC) and center-based licensed programs will qualify for a minimum award of $3,350 and small licensed FCC’s will qualify for a minimum award of $2,350.

“While the ECE field has shown tremendous creativity and resilience to keep their doors open to support children and families, they have also been severely impacted by the challenges of COVID-19 and struggle to keep their doors open,” said Andrea Ford, interim agency director for the Alameda County Social Services Agency.

“Childcare keeps Alameda County working, and these awards are one step to supporting equity and social justice in a field where the workforce is held predominantly by women of color,” said Ford.

Since March 2020, the Alameda County Emergency Child Care Response Team (ECCRT), a cross-sector collaborative of eight county-wide stakeholder agencies, has convened and concentrated its efforts to plan and align its immediate County COVID-19 response to support the ECE field.

Led by the Alameda County Social Services Agency, partner agencies include Alameda County Early Care & Education Planning Council, Alameda County Office of Education, Alameda County Public Health, BANANAS, Community Child Care Council (4Cs) of Alameda County, First 5 Alameda County (F5AC) and Hively. The goal is to ensure the grants funding reaches most if not all licensed ECE providers throughout the County.

The pandemic continues its impact on the ECE system. Nationally, nearly half of childcare providers closed at the beginning of the pandemic, and while many have reopened, data shows that, “86% are serving significantly fewer children than they were prior to the pandemic; on average, enrollment is down by 67%. Two out of five childcare providers are certain that they will close permanently without additional public assistance.”1

Alameda County tremendously values the local ECE field and is honored to provide some relief as we collectively work towards the long road to recovery,” said Ford.

For more information, ssachildcaregrant@acgov.org.

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Bay Area

Board Bars Evictions Related to COVID-19

Several times during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Board has passed resolutions barring evictions for nonpayment of rent arising directly from the coronavirus. Preventing evictions for nonpayment due to financial hardship related to COVID-19 allows the County and its partners to continue making funds available for tenants who have struggled to pay rent. Since spring 2020, nearly 1,260 local households have received County-sponsored COVID-19 rental assistance.

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The County budget is balanced and structurally sound, although national economic indicators are showing signs that the recovery is slowing down.
The County budget is balanced and structurally sound, although national economic indicators are showing signs that the recovery is slowing down.

Protections intended for those experiencing hardship because of pandemic

Courtesy of Marin County

Determined to prevent housing displacement for residents financially hampered by the ongoing pandemic, the Marin County Board of Supervisors took another action June 21 to prohibit residential renter evictions in unincorporated Marin effective July 1 through Sept. 30, 2022. The State of California’s eviction protections are scheduled to expire June 30.

Several times during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Board has passed resolutions barring evictions for nonpayment of rent arising directly from the coronavirus. Preventing evictions for nonpayment due to financial hardship related to COVID-19 allows the County and its partners to continue making funds available for tenants who have struggled to pay rent. Since spring 2020, nearly 1,260 local households have received County-sponsored COVID-19 rental assistance.

The County is continuing to assist tenants who have applied for rental assistance and working with community partners to assure an equitable distribution of federal funds earmarked for eviction prevention. All renters have been protected by state or local laws, regardless of a person’s citizenship status, during the public health emergency. The County continues to process rental assistance applications as quickly as possible with added staff over the past year to accommodate assistance applications.

Rental assistance priority has been given to households that are considered extremely low income, which in Marin would be a family of three with an income of no more than $43,550. Nationally, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are often at the highest risk of housing displacement. The County recognizes that those most in need of eviction protection experience barriers to access such a program. While more than two-thirds of non-Hispanic white residents are homeowners in Marin, roughly three-quarters of both Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx communities in Marin are renters.

Between state and federal funds, the County’s pandemic rental assistance program was awarded $36,414,871 of which $23,970,885 has been distributed to 1,260 local households in need. There is a remaining balance of $8,579,705, which will serve the remaining applicants and waiting list and is anticipated to be spent by September 30, 2022.

Clearing accumulated debt is designed to provide a lifeline to the hardest-hit families and provide income stability for landlords. Several local agencies, such as Canal Alliance, Community Action Marin, and North Marin Community Services, are assisting applicants with the process.

Property owners may call the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit at (415) 473-6450 for assistance on rights and responsibilities. Renters are encouraged to contact Legal Aid of Marin at (415) 492-0230, extension 102, for inquiries on eviction protections.

Anyone needing help with the online application may call (415) 473-2223 or email staff to learn more about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. More information about the County’s eviction moratorium is on the County’s COVID-19 Renter Protections webpage.

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Bay Area

Marin Prepares to Vaccinate Young Children

Parents and guardians should contact their pediatrician to discuss appropriate timing to have their child vaccinated for COVID-19, especially if due for another routine pediatric vaccination. Children in their first 5 years are regularly visiting their pediatrician and vaccines are a routine part of these visits. The COVID-19 vaccine can be given in the same visit as the other important vaccines needed. MCPH will support pediatricians to ensure access to the vaccine over the coming weeks.

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Parents and guardians in Marin County will be able to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments for kids 6 months to 4 years starting this week. (Copyright-free photo from Unsplash).
Parents and guardians in Marin County will be able to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments for kids 6 months to 4 years starting this week. (Copyright-free photo from Unsplash).

New COVID-19 vaccine reduces risk in childcare and youth settings

Courtesy of Marin County

Now that federal and state regulators have approved the use of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 6 months through 4 years old, local pediatricians, health centers and Marin County Public Health (MCPH) are preparing to vaccinate the nearly 8,000 children in that age group who call Marin County home. Appointments are opening this week.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s Public Health Officer. “Until now, 8,000 of our residents – everyone under 5 years – has been excluded from the protection of vaccines because they were too young. Vaccinations will make every setting where kids gather safer, for kids and adults. We’ll all be able to worry a lot less about childcare centers, playdates, parties, and summer camps.”

Community transmission rates in Marin and across the Bay Area remain high. Since the beginning of June, Marin children up to 4 years old have the highest rates of COVID-19 of any age group. Nationally, over 500 children aged 5 or younger have died from COVID-19, making the virus among the top 10 causes of death in children.

The two authorized vaccines are Moderna and Pfizer, offered in lower doses than for adults and older children. Moderna will be for children aged 6 months to 5 years, as two shots spaced one month apart. The Pfizer vaccine will be for children 6 months through 4 years, as three shots over 11 weeks, two within three weeks and a third eight weeks later. The three-dose Pfizer regimen was found to be 80% effective at preventing infection, roughly twice as effective as the Moderna vaccine.

One of the settings that will benefit most from pediatric COVID-19 vaccination is childcare. In Marin, over 80% of school-aged children 5-18 are fully vaccinated, after a dedicated countywide campaign to make schools safer through vaccinations.

“Our childcare providers have been heroes, taking care of our kids since the very beginning of the pandemic while knowing none of the children were vaccinated,” said Michelle Fadelli, Manager of Public Policy and Communications at First 5 Marin. “Now very young children will be safer in childcare, and their providers will be, too.”

ACCESSING THE VACCINE

Parents and guardians should contact their pediatrician to discuss appropriate timing to have their child vaccinated for COVID-19, especially if due for another routine pediatric vaccination. Children in their first 5 years are regularly visiting their pediatrician and vaccines are a routine part of these visits. The COVID-19 vaccine can be given in the same visit as the other important vaccines needed. MCPH will support pediatricians to ensure access to the vaccine over the coming weeks.

Kaiser Permanente, which is the primary medical provider for more than half of Marin households, will welcome children 6 months to 5 years old for COVID-19 vaccination starting Friday, June 24. Parents and guardians can book a vaccination appointment via Kaiser’s call center at (415) 444-4460. Walk-ins or drop-ins are not immediately available.

In addition, parents and guardians will be able to find appointments in a variety of settings – including pharmacies, pediatricians, and public health clinics – online via MyTurn.ca.gov. Select MCPH clinics will offer vaccines to infants and young children without a primary care physician beginning Thursday, June 23. Appointments can be made online via MyTurn and the ongoing schedule will be published at GetVaccinatedMarin.org.

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