For gig workers, staying home is not an option when paying bills trumps health concerns

For many, quarantining was a no-brainer - employers sending people home to work remotely, schools moving to online classes - but for ride share or delivery service workers staying home was simply not an option.

BOSTON — For many, quarantining was a no-brainer - employers sending people home to work remotely, schools moving to online classes - but for ride share or delivery service workers staying home was simply not an option.

Gig workers, either those who drive for ride share services or who deliver food and other goods when everyone else is staying indoors, say they have a strong financial incentive to work, even if they get sick. Many get no sick pay, have no health insurance or any other benefits.

It’s a Catch-22 - on one hand, the gig workers provide essential services to those obeying the stay-at-home advisory, but on the other hand, they’re exposing themselves to the novel coronavirus by doing their job, which many say only furthers the spread of the virus.

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Nathan Freire, an English tutor, is unable to work since the world came to a halt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, he’s working with Instacart deliveries and working for DoorDash so he can pay his bills.

“I’m an English tutor, but I’m doing this right now because I cannot go to people’s houses,” said Freire. “It’s been pretty busy, I’ve been working since Friday I’m doing like five deliveries today it takes two hours to do the shopping and deliver to people’s homes."

Instacart announced this week it’s looking to add 300,000 more temporary workers like Freire to get through the coronavirus pandemic. The problem, however, is that, should any of these gig workers fall ill, they have no health insurance.

“Say I get coronavirus, they would cut me a check during those times that I would not be able to work,” said Freire.

Freire says the company makes it clear they would not provide workers financial help to seek medical help because they are considered subcontractors.

Local staffing firm Aquent’s CEO John Chuang says gig workers are now a public health hazard and that just cutting people checks if they get sick doesn’t equal sick pay.

“That is not really sick pay, that is some kind of COVID-19 PR stunt,” said Chuang. “Sick pay means if I feel ill for any reason it could be that I just I have a fever, I have strep throat, I have measles, I have anything, I just stay at home and get paid I don’t have to go to a public health authority to get a test and hand in a note.”

Chuang highlights how the system was not designed with gig workers in mind.

“Gig economy employees are faced with a really tough decision, do they forgo income or do they go to work and potentially affect people, so that is really unfair,” said Chuang.

When asked if gig workers should just live with the consequences of no sick pay health insurance and any other benefits since they knew that’s what they signed up for, Chuang said that, if that’s the case, then there shouldn’t be any minimum wage laws for other companies to follow either.