Gig Workers on Edge After Recent Brutal Attacks on Instacart and Uber Eats Drivers

by Joshua Brown
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A homeowner shot at the car of a delivery driver who drove onto his property by mistake. In another incident, a man killed and cut apart an Uber Eats driver who brought food to his house. Lastly, a woman was kidnapped and sexually abused while making a DoorDash delivery to a hotel.

Ride-hailing and food delivery companies have been providing a lot of safety measures to protect their customers. However, lately there were some scary incidents reported in Florida which made drivers using those apps feel really unsafe. They even said that the company policies are more focused on protecting customers rather than the drivers.

Winifred Kinanda, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and sometimes drives for Instacart, said she had never felt scared while making deliveries with the grocery app until something happened. There was a couple in Florida who made her extra scared because of her skin color. When she went to pick up an order for Instacart, she kept double checking the address so that people wouldn’t hurt her.

Kinanda, an immigrant from Kenya who also works as an elder caregiver and drives for Uber and Lyft to make extra money, said it scared her. She said that being Black is really tough because people often think you are doing something wrong when they see you.

Recently, a survey showed that 16% of Americans have earned money from online platforms. From those people, 35% said that they felt endangered while doing these jobs; 19% reported even having unwanted sexual advances.

According to the government’s information on occupational injuries and fatalities, being a driver for companies like Instacart or DoorDash, or driving for Uber or Lyft is very dangerous. Most of the risks come from car accidents but the statistics also show that drivers may face assault which other jobs don’t experience.

Gig Workers Alliance, an activist group, said there’s a good chance that it’s not being reported when gig workers are getting hurt or killed at work. This is because these companies don’t have to tell the government agencies about this if someone isn’t their official employee. They also said that it might be missing from police reports too since they don’t always say the person was working as a gig driver when it happened.

Gig Workers Rising said in a new report that 80 workers have been murdered while doing app-based jobs between 2017 and 2022. The majority of the victims were people who gave rides to others, but at least 20 were delivery workers. The report was made by gathering information from press stories, court documents, and police reports.

Uber, Lyft and other food delivery apps don’t report or share all of the dangers that delivery drivers often experience such as car accidents, robbers, hijackers and people being mean. That’s why Roberto Moreno (48-years-old) quit his ride-hailing and delivery driver jobs in San Diego this year – he was scared for his safety.

Moreno explained that he and other Latino food delivery drivers had a group chat on WhatsApp. Members of the group provided each other with assistance when they needed it – things like help fixing flat tires or turning on geolocation trackers for safety during their shifts. Moreno drove for Grubhub, Postmates (bought by Uber Eats in 2020) as well as Lyft and Uber. He believes that these workers need to look out for themselves since companies won’t do it for them.

Driving for transportation apps can be troublesome because it’s hard to know who’s getting in their car as people are allowed to use a different name, nickname or even have someone else order the ride.

Rideshare Drivers United (which is a group of drivers lead by one another) said that while they provide the app companies with their personal information (such as taking a picture and doing background checks), they don’t get to know anything about the passengers.

Uber recently made changes to protect its drivers. They started an audit of rider accounts and froze those that had fake names. Also, if riders want to pay anonymously, like with prepaid cards, Uber has extra verification steps for them too. The company said in a statement “We have clearly heard from our drivers that they want more information about who they’re picking up.”

Critics say that gig workers are at a disadvantage because they don’t get access to benefits like worker compensation or health insurance. DoorDash and Instacart give their workers free insurance for injuries and deaths on the job, but Uber and Lyft only offer people involved in accidents some kind of policy.

Nowadays, DoorDash, Grubhub, Instacart, Uber and Lyft all have safety features built into their apps. These include a button which allows you to call for help in an emergency or a GPS tracking feature that lets your friends and family keep track of your rides.

Last fall, DoorDash developed new technology that can let them know if someone is taking too long to complete a delivery. Grubhub will also have a feature this year where they can give their ID and location to emergency services if somebody calls 911 with the app.

Advocates for workers in the gig economy want even further changes, claiming that not getting paid enough and being scared of losing access to work from the platform put pressure on people to do jobs that are not safe or deal with customers who might be frightening.

The Chicago Gig Workers Alliance is trying to pass a law that would make it so companies have to check who their passengers are, give drivers a warning before suspending them, and allow drivers to try to convince the company not to suspend them.

Kinanda said she is more comfortable with doing deliveries than giving rides for people. She likes that she can end a ride if it’s not safe without getting punished, but the unstable pay makes her stay out late which she attempts to stay away from because some passengers could be drunk.

However, other gig workers reported they prefer giving rides instead of making deliveries due to all the nuisance and risks associated with it.

Sedeq Alshujaa, who is 29 years old, said that he stopped delivering food three years ago and only does ride-hailing now.

He explained that often delivery workers have to go to places they don’t know and may get strange looks from strangers when trying to find the right door. He said: “People don’t know why you’re there.” Seded spoke about this in Arabic with the help of a translator from the Service Employees International Union.

Once, a dog tried to bite him as he opened a gate. Another time, he had to deliver a pizza during a protest in Oakland. He called the customer and asked if they could meet him at his car, but they refused. He then left the pizza at the front door of their building and told them, however they said they never got it. As a result, money was taken out of Alshujaa’s pay. He said that usually “the driver is always the one blamed and who loses.”

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