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Gig Workers Have Nowhere to Pee

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On Wednesday, Christian Perea, an Uber and Lyft driver, posted photos of Vivi’s Cafe, a restaurant in Redwood City, California that refuses to allow Uber Eats and DoorDash delivery drivers to use its bathrooms. In the tweet, Perea said: “This is how many restaurants treat gig-workers for companies like Uber Eats and DoorDash as subhumans”

The owner of Vivi’s Cafe did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment but an employee at the restaurant defended the sign, saying over the phone “Our owner put up the sign and we let everyone use the bathroom, but sometimes drivers don’t flush or take too long.”

Motherboard spoke to delivery drivers who work on Uber Eats, Postmates, Grubhub, DoorDash, and Instacart, and found that not having access to a bathroom while picking up and delivering food for hours is a common problem in many areas of the country. Drivers told us that often restaurants will post signs or tell drivers that bathrooms are reserved for customers only, forcing them to use the bathroom outside or pee in cups in their cars. As middlemen who shuttle food between businesses and customers, gig workers who deliver food and groceries often find themselves occupying a marginalized position. Neither customer nor employee, gig workers are denied the amenities typically offered to both. Federal laws requires that employees provide a least one bathroom for roughly every 15 employees, but this access does not extend to gig workers who are independent contractors.

‘There are several restaurants in San Francisco that I’ve asked to use the bathroom and they’ve said ‘no,’” Mostafa Maklad, who works for UberEats, GrubHub, Postmates, and DoorDash in San Francisco, told Motherboard. “It’s very frustrating when you’re working and have no way to use the bathroom because there just aren’t public bathrooms in this city. Usually, I just try to find one at the next restaurant.”

One gig worker on UberEats and DoorDash who asked to remain anonymous to talk about an embarrassing topic, told Motherboard that barring gig workers from entering restaurant bathrooms is common practice in Chicago. “It’s not unusual. One in five or six restaurants I go into have a sign like that,” he said. And while some restaurants post blatant signs meant to keep out gig workers, most employ more tactful strategies, simply stating that bathrooms are reserved for customers only, he said.

“It’s inconvenient and not rare that bathrooms are reserved for customers,” he said. “We’re spending more money at restaurants than a customer would spend on the same order…and many of us would just like to wash our hands when we pick up food.”

That same worker said sometimes 12-hour shifts go by where he isn’t able to easily access a bathroom. “I always respect the signs, but I’m not ashamed to pull over and pee behind a building. And I’m not shy—if someone were to ask, I’d tell them why. I also keep a spare cup in the car just in case.”

“I’m not ashamed to pull over and pee behind a building. And I’m not shy—if someone were to ask, I’d tell them why. I also keep a spare cup in the car just in case.”

Tiffany, who picks and packs groceries for the app Instacart and preferred to use her first name only, says she’s been told by Safeway and Quality Food Centers (a subsidiary of Kroger’s) in the Seattle area that she cannot use their restrooms. “It’s decently hard to find a restroom in Seattle because they are either 1) locked and monitored so I get told ‘no’ when I ask for a code or 2) they don’t have one at all,” she wrote to Motherboard on Facebook.

Their reasoning, she says, is that she’s not a real customer. “It’s a little messed up that they’re not letting people use restrooms. I’m a customer spending time and money in your store.” After she filed a complaint with the Safeway’s location that wouldn’t let her use the restroom, Tiffany says a manager gave her access.

“The restrooms in our facilities are accessible to the public, including gig workers. This isolated incident where a patron was denied access to a locked restroom is not consistent with our store policies,” a spokesperson for Safeway said.

Quality Food Centers did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment, but an employee who answered the phone at a downtown Seattle location told Motherboard that Quality Food Centers in the area have a policy of not allowing customers to use their restrooms. He wasn’t sure how this policy applies to gig workers.

Many drivers echo these sentiments in online forums. They say they’re forced to make pit stops at parks, gas stations or McDonald’s. Sometimes they ask customers if they can relieve themselves inside their homes. The topic of where and how to pee is a regular subject on the r/UberDrivers subreddit, where one driver noted that a “Peetainer” was “the best purchase I made all last year.” Other threads ask “how many drivers use a piss bottle?” 32-ounce Gatorade bottles seem to be the consensus best pee bottle among drivers.

Late last year, when the actress Gabrielle Union tweeted about an Uber driver who spent 15 minutes in the bathroom at her Los Angeles house, Uber responded saying, “That definitely should not be happening.”

Motherboard reached out to Uber, DoorDash, Grubhub, Seamless, and Instacart for comment about specific policies regarding bathroom use. Uber and DoorDash said they do not have any specific rules about bathroom access. Grubhub, Seamless, and Instacart did not respond. Motherboard reviewed their community guidelines and found nothing on the subject of bathroom access.

When asked, an Uber Eats spokesperson pointed to the community guidelines and quoted: “Restaurants should provide a safe area for order pickups that make delivery people feel welcome.”

“Our whole algorithm—our point is to have the driver be in the restaurant for as little as possible. They may make money if they do more deliveries over time,” a DoorDash spokesperson told Motherboard. “It’s not our call, it’s not our establishment. It’s kind of like an Uber driver asking you to use your restroom after dropping you off.”

This sort of discrimination against gig workers isn’t limited to just delivery apps, but also ride-hailing apps. Motherboard reported last year that some Uber Greenlight Hubs segregated bathrooms by worker classification; at one facility, Uber drivers were directed to Port-a-Potties without running water and scolded for using employee designated ones.

Take New York City’s airports, for example, where for years drivers did not have access to bathrooms. While ride-hail drivers waited in an isolated parking lot for their turn in the queue, they were forced to urinate in bottles and “turn a patch of foliage into their own oversized litter box” for fear of missing a passenger.

In New York City, there are over 120,000 ride-hail app drivers and only 32 designated “relief stands.”

“When we launched our restroom campaign in late 2016, there wasn’t even a port-a-potty for ride-hail drivers at JFK,” Moira Muntz, spokesperson for the Independent Drivers Guild, a New York City-based labor group for app-based drivers, told Motherboard. “After years of research and conference calls, we finally won running water restrooms at the airports. This fall, the Port Authority put in place running water restroom trailers at all three airports and approved plans to build permanent restroom facilities.”

New York City itself, however, is not doing much better. There are over 120,000 ride-hail app drivers (also known as for-hire-vehicle drivers or FHVs) and only 32 designated “relief stands” for FHVs to park for an hour and “take care of personal needs”—19 are in Manhattan, where the vast majority of all drivers operate.

“These are just places to park—in most cases there is no nearby public restroom. Also, many of these ‘relief stands’ are only designated for FHV use overnight or after businesses are closed. Many of them are for commercial deliveries only during the day,” Muntz said. “New York City desperately needs more public restrooms.”

Are you a gig worker with a story to share about your working conditions? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Edward at edward.ongweso@vice.com or on Signal 413-225-2938, or Lauren at lauren.gurley@vice.com or on Signal 201-897-2109.

There’s a reason that gig workers consistently have difficulty getting bathroom access whether its in restaurants, grocery stores, airports, or at city-designated rest stops—and why gig employers are in no rush to do anything about it. Gig workers are seen, with some classist disregard, as a problem to be solved. For these companies, the problem is how to minimize labor costs in pursuit of profits; for cities and states, the problem is how to classify workers and their rights/responsibilities; and for everyone else, the problem is that they do what everyone else does (use the bathroom, contribute to traffic, etc.).

But if you’re the gig worker and the problem is you want to be treated with some dignity, perhaps take a bathroom break between jobs as you struggle to make ends meet…well, tough shit!

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Real-time payments are changing gig-economy, real estate payments at small banks

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Two smaller banks with strikingly different roots — a startup financial institution in Irvine, Calif., and a century-old Missouri-based bank — are seeing similar trends emerge around demand for real-time payments.

Newer real estate and gig economy companies are most interested in real-time payments, while traditional corporations take a bit longer to explore use cases, according to two banks that were among the first to adopt RTP through FIS’ banking platform.

Data about faster payments demand and usage at small and midsize banks is trickling in as FIS completes the first phase of RTP implementations via The Clearing House (TCH) network, three years after the nation’s largest banks (which collectively own TCH) launched the service.

Smaller financial institutions uninterested in RTP may wait up to three or four years for the Federal Reserve’s proposed FedNow instant-payments solution to launch, and neither Nano Banc nor First Bank wanted to wait that long.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based FIS last year began exploring RTP rollouts with interested institutions, with implementations occurring over a couple of months during the pandemic, FIS said.

Nano Banc and First Bank recently went live with RTP for receiving payments, with plans to add sending capabilities in the next few months, as they explore marketing and pricing for the new payments services.

First Bank, based in the St. Louis, Mo., serves a lot of small businesses and family-owned firms in the Midwest and California. The bank launched RTP in July and saw immediate interest from its B2B customers looking to pay Grubhub drivers and other gig-economy workers, said Ajay Kothuri, First Bank’s assistant vice president.

“Most of our first RTP use cases are companies who want to get payments to workers and suppliers faster,” Kothuri said.

Several businesses that adopted RTP are pleased with its speed and the inclusion of pertinent remittance information for streamlined accounting, Kothuri said.

“We’re already seeing interest in RTP spread from B2B to B2C, and in coming months we’ll expand applications so end users can bring RTP to existing ACH and card payments,” Kothuri said.

First Bank has not changed its pricing for RTP payments.

“As we expand RTP and begin sending ACH and wire payments, we’ll look at products and pricing,” he said.

First Bank is unrelated to FirstBank, the Colorado institution that was the first non-founding member of the P2P network Zelle (formerly clearXchange) to sign on to that project.

California’s Nano Banc was the 44thbank out of 18,000 to launch RTP when the service went live in August, said Mark Troncale, the bank’s co-founder and president.

Real estate companies have been the most enthusiastic participants in RTP since the launch, with faster payments speeding up deals and payouts to real estate agents, according to Troncale.

“We see application in the real estate settlement industry, where agents like to get their commissions very fast and settlement and fiduciary companies like to go past the traditional transaction cutoff time if they can,” Troncale said.

Nano Banc’s current ceiling for receiving payments via RTP is $100,000, which restricts the network’s use for certain higher-ticket real estate deals, but Troncale sees that as a short-term obstacle.

“Eventually we’ll get to the place where we can do larger amounts, and in the real estate industry specifically we see great value with RTP,” he said.

Most of Nano Banc’s customers are local, but the bank also serves some national companies and Troncale expects RTP will help Nano Banc compete more effectively across the U.S.

“I think my competitors in the community bank space will start to adopt RTP very quickly, once they see its advantages,” he said.

Nano Bank is still contemplating how it will price RTP as it expands.

“There’s been lots of talk about how this will be a new, cheaper solution with payment gateways, but you get what you pay for,” he said. “I don’t know if our RTP will be cheaper than other options but it’s going to add so much more in terms of security and efficiencies … pricing will be competitive but we’re still exploring what that’s going to look like.”



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It is a ballot fight for survival for gig companies like Uber, DoorDash

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By Kate Conger

OAKLAND: By late August, the urgency was becoming clear. Top executives of Uber, Lyft and the delivery service DoorDash met to discuss a California ballot measure that would exempt them from a new state labor law and save their companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

The survival of their businesses was on the ballot.

Days later, political strategists responded to the executives’ concerns by telling the companies, which had already pledged $90 million to back the measure, that they needed to spend a lot more if they wanted to win, said three people familiar with the discussions, who were not allowed to talk about them publicly.

The fight over the ballot measure, Proposition 22, has become the most expensive in the state’s history since then, with its backers contributing nearly $200 million and 10 days still to go until the Nov. 3 election. Along the way, the companies have repeatedly been accused of heavy-handed tactics; a lawsuit filed Thursday claims Uber is coercing the support of its drivers.

Despite the big spending and a barrage of television advertising, only 39% of likely voters said they supported Uber and Lyft in a poll last month by the University of California, Berkeley, while 36% opposed their proposal and others were undecided. People close to the campaign said they would want to see close to 60% approval in polling before they could breathe a sigh of relief.

The ballot measure, which is also being backed by Instacart and a delivery company that Uber is acquiring, Postmates, could be a harbinger for gig companies in the rest of the country.

Prop 22 would exempt the companies from complying with a law that went into effect at the beginning of the year, while offering limited benefits to drivers. The law is intended to force them to treat gig workers as employees, but Uber and its peers have resisted, fearing that the cost of benefits like unemployment insurance and health care could tip them into a downward financial spiral.

Although Uber and Lyft, for example, are publicly traded companies with a combined worth of $70.5 billion, they have never been profitable. They lose billions of dollars each year, and the pandemic has made turning a profit even more difficult. DoorDash, which has filed to go public, has also struggled. Analysts estimate that complying with California’s gig worker law could cost Uber, which lost $1.8 billion in its most recent quarter, as much as $500 million a year.

Uber said it planned to cut off work for the approximately 158,000 California drivers who were active on the platform each quarter if its ballot measure failed. It would employ roughly 51,000 remaining drivers, it said, and raise fares to meet the higher business costs.

The ballot fight gained additional urgency Thursday when the California 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that Uber and Lyft must treat their California drivers as employees under the new labor law. The state attorney general and the city attorneys of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego had sued the companies in May to enforce the law.

“If Prop 22 does not win, we will do our best to adjust,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, in a Wall Street Journal interview this week. “Where in California we can operate is a question mark, and the size and scale of the business will be substantially reduced.”

In past dust-ups with local regulators, Uber rallied its passengers for support. The pandemic has made that difficult, so it has urged its tech employees to get involved and used its app to reach out to drivers for support.

The Yes on 22 campaign also started an effort to organize drivers, a move copied from the labor groups that have long tried to organize drivers to fight for better working conditions. And it has forged relationships with high-profile advocacy groups, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the California chapter of the NAACP.

“Drivers want independence plus benefits by a 4-to-1 margin, and we’re going to fight for them,” said Julie Wood, a spokesperson for Lyft. “We believe California voters are on the side of drivers, too.”

A spokesperson for DoorDash, Taylor Bennett, said, “Our support for Prop 22 is part of our commitment to protecting the economic opportunity that tens of thousands of Californians value and the access to delivery that so many restaurants rely on, especially at such a critical time.”

A spokesperson for Instacart declined to comment. Postmates did not respond to a request for comment.

In an effort to gain support, the companies have bombarded riders and drivers with push notifications, campaign ads that appear in their apps and emails promoting Prop 22. Before logging on to start work, Uber drivers have been presented with a slideshow of warnings about how their lives could change if the proposition fails.

“A no vote would mean far fewer jobs,” one of the slides on the Uber app warned. “That’s why we’re fighting so hard to win.”

In the lawsuit filed against Uber on Thursday, drivers claim that the messages violated a state law that forbids employers to coerce their employees to participate in political activity.

“I can’t rule out that employers have engaged in coercive tactics like this in the past, but I have never heard of an employer engaging in this sort of barrage of coercive communications on such a broad level, ever,” said one of the attorneys for the drivers, David Lowe, a partner at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe. “It is such an extraordinary thing, from my perspective, for Uber to exploit this captive audience of workers.” Lowe said he opposed Prop 22.

Matt Kallman, an Uber spokesperson, said, “This is an absurd lawsuit, without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts.” He added, “It can’t distract from the truth: that the vast majority of drivers support Prop 22.”

In early October, the Prop 22 campaign was denounced by Sen. Bernie Sanders after a fake progressive group calling itself Feel the Bern endorsed the proposition in a campaign flyer that implied Uber had the backing of progressive leaders. The mailers were, in fact, sent by a firm that creates political mailers representing different views.

“The Prop 22 campaign is working hard to reach voters across the state and the political spectrum to ensure they know that drivers overwhelmingly support Prop 22,” said Geoff Vetter, a spokesperson for the Yes on 22 campaign, which is funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig economy companies.

Questions have also been raised about the NAACP endorsement. A political consulting firm run by Alice Huffman, leader of the California NAACP., has received $85,000 from the gig companies’ campaign, public records show. The payment was reported earlier by the news site CalMatters.

Vetter said the payments were for “outreach.” The NAACP did not respond to a request for comment.

Uber held an all-hands meeting this month for employees to meet drivers who support the proposition, and sent several emails encouraging staff to lobby friends and family.

Although the internal messages were upbeat, the policy staff raised concerns with campaign consultants during the meetings in late August and early September, the people familiar with those meetings said. Among their worries: that the ballot language was unfavorable to the companies and that people were voting earlier than usual because of the pandemic, meaning advertising would need to be rapid and aggressive.

“We look at the data every day, and our metrics show a tight race,” Justin Kintz, Uber’s head of public policy, said in an early October email to Uber employees, obtained by The New York Times. “At the same time, with continued strong execution against our plan, we’re confident we can win.”

While the email noted that campaigning was optional, Kintz encouraged employees to participate in texting banks to contact voters and to promote the campaign in conversations with friends.

“The big reason that you’re seeing so much spending is because of the high stakes in this election,” said Vetter, the spokesperson for the campaign. “Hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line. These are services that millions of Californians rely on.”

The opposition campaign, which is funded by labor unions, has raised about $15 million. Supporters of the No on 22 campaign have argued that voters should reject the push by tech companies and that the measure would harm workers already at a disadvantage during the pandemic.

“Proposition 22 will make racial inequality worse in California at the worst possible time,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “You have very clearly crossed the line when you try to claim the equity mantle for a campaign that has always been about allowing multibillion-dollar app companies to write their own law so that they can keep exploiting the labor of drivers, 8 in 10 of whom are people of color.”

No matter the outcome of the vote, the gig companies and their opponents are likely to take their campaigns to Washington. Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit similar to the one that the California court decided Thursday, and Uber hopes to avoid continued state-by-state battles by pressing for federal legislation.



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In Gig-Dependent LA, Rent Payments Begin To Skid As Payday Loans Spike

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Reports of the Los Angeles County’s gig worker-dependent economy falling apart ring true, but rent collection numbers, while lower than those from last year across the board, don’t seem to paint Los Angeles as any worse off than other expensive, coastal cities, some experts say. But is paying the rent alone a good indicator of how hard the coronavirus pandemic has hit renters?

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Los Angeles County in August had the second-highest unemployment rate in the state: 16.6%, according to the state’s Employment Development Department.

According to data from RealPage, by the last week of August, 91.9% of LA renters had paid their rent, a 5.1% drop from 97% in 2019. By the last week of September, 93.4% of LA tenants had paid their rent compared to the 97.8% that had done so by the same time in 2019, or a difference of about 4.4%.

Stacking this year’s data up against 2019’s offers some necessary context to current numbers, said Adam Couch, a market analyst at RealPage, one of the companies whose data is used for the National Multifamily Housing Council’s nationwide rent payment tracker. The difference between the two years offers a good way to tell how much a metro has been impacted by the pandemic, Couch said.

Los Angeles saw a bigger year-over-year change in rent collection than New York in the last two months. 

By the last week of August, RealPage shows that 90.5% of New Yorkers had paid their rent, a 3.1% drop from the same time in 2019. By the last week of September, 93.3% of New Yorkers had paid their rent, a 2.9% difference over the previous year.

But Couch said that the two metros have regularly been jockeying for position toward the top of the list of biggest discrepancies between 2019 and 2020 rent collection. He highlighted New York, LA and the Bay Area as some of the standouts in terms of decline, with New York being impacted the most. 

Nothing in the data so far stands out about LA or indicates that it’s doing worse overall for rent collection than the Bay Area or New York, he said. “The rent payments in gateway markets have typically seen some of the largest annual declines,” Couch said. 

That’s not totally surprising considering those areas are among the most expensive places in the country to live. 

“It’s more difficult to make rent payments when rents are so expensive,” Couch said.

Additional federal unemployment benefits expiring and the smaller amounts that were being provided by states aren’t going to be as helpful toward paying for rent and other necessities in places where the rent is very high, Couch said. 

Though RealPage’s data doesn’t indicate that Los Angeles renters are particularly hard-hit by the pandemic compared to renters in other cities, a report published by UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies suggests an additional layer to the story: that perhaps LA renters are going to unsustainable lengths to make their rent payments on time.

“Paying on time and in full, in other words, should not be mistaken for ‘having no problems’ paying rent,” the report said. 

The report COVID-19 and Renter Distress used data from two sources: the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which the bureau undertook specifically to gather data on how American households have been affected by the pandemic. It includes questions about late rent payment and a more detailed survey of 1,000 LA County households conducted by a third party for UCLA.

The report was co-authored by USC Lusk Center for Real Estate Director Richard Green and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs associate professors Michael Lens, Michael Manville and Paavo Monkkonen.

Using information from the survey, the report found that “nontrivial proportions” of renter households that were paying their full rent on time between May and July were doing so by using their savings, asking friends and family for help, or by using credit cards or high-interest payday loans. The use of these methods is much higher among households that paid rent late at least once in that time period, or that only made a partial rent payment during that time, the report said. 

The UCLA survey found that just under 40% of renters who had paid rent late at least once and more than 40% of tenants who made a partial rent payment during those months had used a payday loan to help them pay rent during that time. Just under 40% of tenants who paid partial rent during the three-month span reported that they had used credit cards to help them pay rent.

“Looking at people and their ability to make rent, we should not mistake that for an absence of financial distress,” Manville said in a public discussion about the findings.

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