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Zachary Frenette, 29, was diagnosed with HIV 10 years ago. He takes medication every day and has become accustomed to being immunocompromised from the disease. But since the new coronavirus has taken over life in the United States, it has had to be very careful. And because he’s a full-time Uber driver, that makes things difficult.
“The COVID-19 virus attacks your immune system and mine is already under attack, that’s the terrifying part of it,” Frenette, who lives in Phoenix, said in an interview on March 31. “I have an increased risk of death or getting sick.”
Frenette tried for nearly two weeks to get sick leave from Uber after her doctor ordered her to be quarantined to avoid exposure to the coronavirus while driving. But he was constantly denied such financial assistance. Uber said the compensation was only open to drivers diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. After communicating with various media outlets detailing his story, Uber finally deposited $ 1,565 into his account on April 2.
But now things are changing for Uber drivers like Frenette.
Changing course, the passenger transport company announced Friday that drivers with pre-existing conditions will now be eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave. The criteria includes a letter from the doctor stating that the pre-existing condition puts the driver at increased risk for serious illness due to COVID-19.
“We moved quickly, which meant there were problems that we didn’t anticipate and things that we were simply wrong about,” an Uber spokeswoman told CNET. “We are now trying to adapt to changing circumstances and respond to the very legitimate problems of drivers and delivery drivers.”
In addition to adding drivers with pre-existing conditions to its paid vacation policy, Uber said it is also coming back and looking at drivers who filed claims last month and were rejected. If those rejected claims include drivers with pre-existing conditions, Uber will provide financial assistance retroactively.
Uber is the first major concert economy company to offer paid vacations to workers who are vulnerable to COVID-19. Other gig economy companies, such as Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, and Postmates, say they offer sick leave to workers who have been diagnosed and exposed to the disease, but have not yet targeted people with pre-existing conditions.
COVID-19 is known to be especially dangerous for certain groups of people, such as those over the age of 60 and people with diabetes, heart conditions, respiratory problems, and immunosuppressive diseases, such as HIV, cancer, and Crohn’s disease.
In the past few weeks, concert workers have gatheredand corporate security supplies. Many have demanding more protections. Because concert workers are classified as independent contractors, they lack the benefits, such as compulsory sick leave, that employees receive.
During the coronavirus pandemic, concert workers say such benefits are even more important because they are often on the front lines, leading people, and delivering food and supplies.
More than 1,400 Uber drivers have been infected with COVID-19 or exposed to the disease, Uber confirmed to CNET. In late March, Anil Subba, an Uber driver living in Queens, New York, became the first known concert worker to die from COVID-19 after having driven a sick passenger from the airport.
Uber has led the charge in the US. USA When it comes to offering more protections to workers during the coronavirus outbreak. It was the first company to announce two weeks of paid driver’s license, and one of the first toto send the workers.
But many of these changes came after pressure from drivers and worker advocacy groups.
The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents 200,000 drivers in the New York area, sent Uber a letter two weeks ago demanding that the company include drivers with pre-existing conditions in its paid vacation policy. The intention is “to ensure that at-risk drivers do not risk their lives to drive,” the letter says.
While Uber did not respond to the Guild letter, it appears to have paid attention to what the group and many other drivers have been saying.
However, Uber’s new sick leave policy comes with some major changes. Most notable is a limit on the amount of money each driver can receive. That “maximum payment” will differ by city and will be based on the typical income of drivers and delivery people in that city. Previously, the policy was based on the earnings of individual drivers.
“We know that setting a maximum payout per person means that some of the most active drivers and delivery people will receive less than they normally earned before COVID-19 became widespread,” Uber wrote in a blog post. “But by expanding eligibility, we hope this assistance can provide a modest form of relief for more drivers and their families.”
All drivers who meet the sick leave criteria and have made at least one trip to Uber in the past month will receive $ 50. Those drivers who have worked the most will be eligible to receive additional money. For example, the maximum payment in Los Angeles is $ 459 and in Columbus, Ohio, it is $ 244.
These new limited payments are much lower than drivers were receiving under Uber’s previous paid leave policy. For comparison, CNET spoke to a full-time San Francisco Uber driver last month who received $ 2,108 and another Castro Valley, California driver who received $ 1,600.
“Limiting pandemic payments is the most damaging to full-time drivers. These are the workers who depend on driving to support their families,” said Moira Muntz, spokesperson for the Independent Drivers Guild. “Why would they cut attendance for their most active drivers and those most affected by not being able to work during this pandemic?”
As for Frenette, the Uber driver in Phoenix, although she could return to driving after her two-week sick leave ends, she will remain vulnerable to COVID-19 as someone who is HIV positive. Her doctor told her that for now she should wait to drive and Frenette said she was following his advice.
“I am concerned about my health and concerned about my financial future,” Frenette said. But, he added, he is used to it after living with HIV for so long. “I have had a time bomb tied to my hip since I was very young.”