By Erica Hellerstein, Mercury News

Twitters San Francisco HeadquartersFor five years, Mostafa Maklad has driven for rideshare companies, clearing about $100 a day after expenses. At 36, he shares a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco with five other roommates and tries to drive up to 100 hours a week to get by.
 
Maklad, who has driven for both Uber and Lyft and is an organizer with Gig Workers Rising, which advocates for worker protections and benefits, says his days typically begin at 5 a.m. and end after midnight. He has driven while sick in the past to cover his monthly expenses.  
 
As the number of coronavirus cases grows in the Bay Area, he’s trying to take as many precautions as possible to protect himself and his passengers: wiping down his car regularly, washing his hands, stocking up on hand sanitizer. But he worries about how he would sustain himself if he started to feel sick.
 
“I could stay home if I’m sick but who is going to pay my bills?” says Maklad on a recent break from driving. “If I get sick, I cannot afford to go to the doctor. I don’t have health care to cover my needs and I don’t get sick leave from work so I still have to keep working.”  
 
(Image: The twitter headquarters in San Francisco. Credit: Wikimedia.)
 
Maklad’s dilemma underscores the challenge for independent contractors, gig workers and others in jobs that can’t be done remotely: Without paid sick time, they say, it’s harder to take the kinds of precautionary measures experts advise to minimize and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus
 
Public health officials, companies and other leaders have repeatedly urged people to stay home if they become ill or to work remotely. This week, both Twitter and Microsoft Corp. asked employees to telecommute if possible, and Square also encouraged employees to work from home.
 
But for gig workers who help fuel the tech economy, staying home means giving up money they need to pay the bills, setting up tension that some fear could affect efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
 
“In a lot of ways what this situation lays bare is how our larger social economic political conditions really affect the ability to comply with these kinds of recommendations that public health officials are giving us,” says Lili Farhang, co-director of the Oakland-based public health organization Human Impact Partners. “The control of coronavirus is wholly dependent on people’s ability to comply with this recommendation to isolate. And that recommendation, that precaution, is totally impractical for people who lack adequate health insurance, who don’t have paid sick leave, or who don’t have the option to work from home.”
 
Although there are no federal laws guaranteeing paid sick time, California requires employers to provide employees with three paid sick days each year.  
 LyftLA
But like many other gig workers, Maklad remains an independent contractor, not an employee, and says he does not receive employee health coverage or paid sick time. As for preemptively storing up to two week’s worth of food in the event he did become sick and could not leave the house? Too
expensive, he says.
 
Uber, Lyft, Doordash and other delivery companies have advised drivers or delivery workers to stay safe —and to stay home if they aren’t feeling well. But advocates argue that creates a difficult choice for many workers.
 
(Image: A Lyft car in Los Angeles. Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
 
“If you’re not feeling well and it’s between not driving and falling behind on bills and rent, what are you going to choose?” says Lauren Casey, gig economy campaign lead with working Partnerships USA.  
 
California’s landmark gig worker law, Assembly Bill 5, aimed to change the employment landscape by reclassifying independent contractors as employees. Under the law, which went into effect January 1, Lyft and Uber drivers reclassified as employees would be covered by state and city paid sick time policies. But the companies are challenging the law in court and working to put an initiative before voters.
 
Carlos Ramos is a 38-year-old Lyft driver and Gig Workers Rising organizer who lives in Bakersfield but regularly drives in the Bay Area. He’s unlike some of his colleagues: He has health coverage through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but he still says taking time off of work to go to the doctor is a luxury. He says he would not be able to stop driving if he started feeling ill and he worries about the public health impact of drivers staying on the road. If he tested positive for coronavirus, he said, he wouldn’t drive.
 
“You might get sick but your bills don’t get sick,” Ramos says.  
 
Erica Hellerstein is a reporter with the Mercury News. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.
Pin it

Coronavirus Updates

NorCal News

  • covid 19 4960254 1280
    March 03, 2021

    Inching closer to the red tier

    Since August, Sonoma County’s been stuck in the state’s most restrictive tier in terms of COVID-19 recovery. But the possibility of opening up the economy a bit more is finally possible. Sonoma’s one of four Bay Area counties still in the purple tier, according to state guidelines. But because…
  • IMG 7516 2
    March 02, 2021

    Santa Rosa Clears a Large Homeless Encampment

    Dozens of people living in Santa Rosa’s largest homeless encampment were forced to pack up and leave Tuesday morning. It marks Santa Rosas’s second encampment clearance in the past week. Activists showed up before sunrise to protest the clearing of Santa Rosa’s biggest homeless encampment on…
  • syringe 5882594 1280
    February 26, 2021

    County Postpones Vaccine Appointments Due to Scarcity

    Next week, Sonoma County is suspending all first dose vaccine appointments due to supply shortage. But the county will keep second dose appointments for both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Sonoma County has been allocated 7,680 doses for next week, five percent fewer than this week. This…
  • vaccine 5873170 1920
    February 24, 2021

    The County is Nervous about Blue Shield's Vaccine Takeover

    On March 7, Blue Shield of California will start administering Sonoma County’s vaccine rollout. The nonprofit insurer will take over the data collection and decide how many doses each provider receives. They’ll also streamline the sign-up process, making most appointments available through…
  • vaccine 5895477 1280
    February 19, 2021

    County Shifts Vaccine Priority to 65 and Up and Food Workers

    On Monday, residents 65 and older, along with food manufacturing, grocery store and restaurant workers will be eligible for a vaccine at one of the county-supported clinics. Prioritization will be given to those with server illnesses, such as cancer or kidney disease. The decision to expand…
  • vaccine 5926664 1280
    February 17, 2021

    The County Still Faces a Vaccine Shortage

    Two months into Sonoma County’s vaccine rollout, 19% of the adult population has received at least one dose. The county is keeping up with other Bay Area counties in vaccinating residents and has opened up dozens of clinics, but the biggest problem has been the same since day one: the county isn’t…
  • vaccine 4946480 640
    Feb 10, 2021

    The County Reaches for More Vaccine Data

    Officials say Sonoma is administering vaccine doses at a faster rate than similarly sized counties. On February 10, officials announced the county…
  • final 4896425 640
    Feb 09, 2021

    The County Compromises on Eviction Limitations

    On February 9, Sonoma’s Board of Supervisors voted to place more limitations on evictions during COVID-19. The amendment limits evictions to extreme…
  • Feb 06, 2021

    Sonoma County Extends Stay-At-Home Order

    State public health officials have extended a Stay-Home Order for the 11-county Bay Area region, including Sonoma County. The move comes as COVID-19…
  • vaccine 5873170 1280
    Feb 03, 2021

    The County Promises an Equitable Vaccine Rollout

    Earlier this week Sonoma County reaffirmed its commitment to vaccinate the oldest seniors first, those 75 and older. Younger seniors were told to be…
  • corona 5174671 640
    Feb 03, 2021

    What We Need to Know: COVID in Sonoma County

    What are the current county restrictions? Sonoma County is currently in the most restrictive purple tier of the California’s Blueprint for a Safer…
  • Nurses protesting outside of Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. Photo courtesy of the California Nurses Association.
    Jan 31, 2021

    Santa Rosa Nurses Demand Safe Staffing

    UPDATE: Earlier this week California’s Department of Public Health halted the staffing waivers. The State says they will not accept any new…
  • injection 5722329 1920
    Jan 27, 2021

    Sonoma County Opens its First Clinic for Oldest Seniors

    Sonoma County is following the state’s guidance to prioritize seniors ages 75 and up in its vaccine rollout. While there’s progress and hope in the…
  • Student doing homeowork.
    Jan 21, 2021

    County Strategizes Reopening Schools

    Covid-19 is rampant in Sonoma County and spreading faster than ever, which means kids are still stuck at home. While vaccines are being rolled out,…
  • pbs
    Jan 13, 2021

    PBS Employee Makes Controversial Statements on Hidden Camera

    Julian Wyllie of CURRENT news reports in a story entitled "PBS Distances Itself from Former Staff Attorney Ensnared in Project Veritas Sting," that…
  • COVIDdec2020
    Dec 06, 2020

    Understanding the New Regional Stay-At-Home Orders

    Regional Stay Home Orders will go into effect within 24 hours in regions with less than 15% ICU availability, and prohibits private gatherings of any…

NorCal News Radio

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.