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Financial Help Ideas to Support Service and Gig Workers Right Now

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Reach out to the trainers, teachers, and tutors you normally work with and see if they’re offering any online services. Or if they’d like to! Perhaps your trainer would offer a virtual workout or would even just write programming for you to do at home—and you can pay them for that.

5. Or maybe take up a new hobby or class from someone offering virtual services

If you’re telecommuting and grappling with boredom, a virtual Pilates class, poetry workshop, tarot reading, or language class are all great ways to break up your day while also supporting those displaced from the service sector. Now is the time to find folks offering their services online so they can continue to earn an income.

6. Find (and donate to) an aid fund set up for a variety of different kinds of workers

When Mason, Ohio students Alexandra Madaras, Mariah Norman, and Raghav Raj decided to launch a fundraiser for bar and restaurant employees affected by closures, they hoped to raise a few hundred dollars. “So many people have been affected by this crisis, so personally I was worried that people would feel too overwhelmed with their own problems to help someone else,” Norman said in an email. “Luckily, I was proved very wrong.” Within a week, the Service Workers Mutual Aid Fund had raised $10,000 and dispersed aid to 30 workers in need of relief.

Individuals and organizations have launched fundraising efforts large and small to assist workers left in financial precarity by the new coronavirus pandemic, piecing together at the ground level the protections not provided by the federal government.

“Domestic workers have been excluded from most basic workplace laws, and the social safety net has never accommodated them,” Ai-Jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, says in an email to SELF. “They have always cobbled together work, and most workers struggle to make ends meet from one day to the next.” The NDWA’s just-launched Coronavirus Care Fund has already raised $1,000,000 of its $4,000,000 goal “to provide emergency assistance for home care workers, nannies, and house cleaners to support them in staying safe and staying home to slow the spread of the coronavirus and to care for themselves and their families.”

From servers and nannies to artists and sex workers, there are relief funds dedicated to alleviating the financial stress of the pandemic. Donating to one or several is a great way to help communities in need make it through the next few weeks or months. And if you can’t find a fundraiser geared toward the people you’re most concerned about, you can always start a GoFundMe or virtual tip jar of your own!

7. Support musicians by buying from Bandcamp and donating to Sweet Relief

Like Joaquina Lluma above, many musicians are without their normal income stream now that bars and theaters have shut down. Buying music or merchandise on Bandcamp, which takes only a 15% cut on digital music and 10% on merch, means most of your money goes to the artists who need it. On Friday, March 20, Bandcamp waived their revenue cut, making $4.3 million dollars in sales that went straight to musicians. You can also donate to the COVID-19 Fund by Sweet Relief, a nonprofit that provides aid to musicians dealing with illness or disability.

8. Tip the shit out of service workers if you can afford it

If you’re ordering takeout, having groceries delivered, or getting drive-thru, someone is staying at work and risking exposure to meet your needs. Be kind and patient, and tip like a beast.

9. Advocate for legislation that would offer economic relief

While relief bills are being debated in Congress, many in the service sector worry their needs will be overlooked. Kristin Snyder, the Detroit hairstylist, launched a Change.org petition for emergency relief funds allocated to the beauty and body work industry—a petition which has now received over one million signatures, and, she says, will be delivered to various U.S. senators. “I had no idea how big this was going to get,” said Snyder. “People have been sharing their stories, and there are so many people in such dire positions.”

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Denver’s Gig Economy Workers Share Their Stories

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Photo by Victor Xok on Unsplash

Caught between the new coronavirus and earning a living, the Mile High City’s independent workforce opens up about how Lyft, Amazon, Instacart, and others are supporting them (or not) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In many ways, gig economy workers have become the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 crisis, often facing frontline exposure to the virus without the protections—including health and unemployment benefits—provided to traditional employees. Some companies have made efforts to support workers during this time, such as offering two weeks of sick pay for those diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. But even workers ordered to stay at home by local governments have experienced challenges getting the companies approve their claims.

Last week, which began with Instacart and Amazon employees and contractors striking for higher pay and better safety measures, several Denver gig workers talked with 5280 about their experiences during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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*Full names withheld at the request of the subjects. 

Nate*: Instacart

People are desperate, but that’s good though. Customers, they feel so bad for us, so a lot of the time they’re tipping us like crazy high. I could work seven days a week nonstop and make a ton of money, but I don’t want to do that because there’s a chance that I could be infected at anytime. Amazon and Whole Foods, their workers are going on strike because they don’t feel safe in these conditions.

The thing is, the last time people tried to strike against Instacart, it backfired on us. We used to have this quality bonus—every time a customer gave you five stars you got an extra $3 on your order. So it was a big incentive for us to give really good service. But when that strike happened, they completely removed it. They said they were going to implement new ways for incentivizing us with promotions, but that didn’t happen until—honestly until the coronavirus started to come into effect. Promotions are like, if you work from noon to 5 p.m., every delivery you do in that span you get an extra $3 per delivery. They don’t care. It’s that simple. They know they can exploit us and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Sherrie Salazar: Lyft, Instacart, Postmates

I have always done the express rental program through Lyft and Hertz, but the rental is $250 a week, and I haven’t been making that the last two weeks. Ridership is down. Grocery shopping and food deliveries are through the roof, which is what’s saving us gig workers right now. I just started with Instacart and Postmates during the pandemic. Postmates isn’t a big tipper. Instacart is. My Postmates stuff has all been food delivery; I think maybe customers think they’re paying too much for their food so they’re not going to tip the driver. It’s like, we’re out here making sure you get it. And it’s still warm—or cold, or whatever it’s supposed to be.

I’m a high-risk [patient] if I were to get COVID-19. My heart functions at 74 percent. I have asthma. I have kidney disease. I’m pre-diabetic. I’m still doing my job. I’m being safe about it.

JL*: Lyft

I’m pretty sure I had or still have COVID-19, and I self-isolated the moment I started having symptoms. My children have had it as well. I immediately contacted Lyft to let them know that I would be returning my rental and isolating. I then contacted them to see what relief would be available to me. They indicated that without a positive test result, I get no help. But no one can get tested in Colorado unless they are admitted to the hospital or meet the criteria for high risk. I contacted my primary care physician, and they indicated they would not issue a request for a test because I do not meet the criteria.

I’m convinced Lyft knows that not many people can get tested so they made that a requirement for helping drivers, thus limiting their need to help drivers. This is a crock of shit. I have been driving full-time for Lyft for a year with over 3,900 rides. I would estimate Lyft has made in excess of $40,000 from me. Still, they can’t help me even though I did the right thing and stopped driving. 

Steve*: Amazon Flex

Amazon has said it’s hiring 100,000 workers both in warehouses and as flex drivers. I guess my perception is that they’re trying to bring in a lot of new drivers to increase the pool of people who are picking from available slots so Amazon can avoid surge pricing. My personal opinion is everything Amazon is going to do is going to be in its favor—which is going to decrease the amount it has to pay to do deliveries.

I can certainly understand why people are [striking]: It’s the low pay. It’s all these packages that are coming in from all different locations and you just don’t know if the virus is on any of them. How long can it survive on cardboard packages? With this coronavirus, I’m hoping it does compel some of these companies that are providing gig work to provide better [personal protective equipment]—not only for the drivers’ protection but also for the customers’ protection as well

Stephanie Ramsey: Uber, Lyft, Instacart

I’m not someone who has a savings account that I can fall back on. I’m grateful that I at least have something, because if I didn’t have [Instacart] I would be in a bad position. But yeah, I certainly feel forced into it. There’s not another option, really.

I don’t want this to wreck years of my life financially. I don’t want to get buried. I could stay at home and probably call all of the billing companies, and they would put it off for a little while but—yeah, I’d rather risk going out and getting sick than have to worry about my finances. Definitely.

At this point in time, my tips have been 50 percent and more of my overall earnings. If I was strictly relying on what Instacart is willing to pay me, this would not be worth it. It’s only worth it because there have been a lot of generous people.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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WEBINAR: Demystifying Unemployment for 1099 and Gig Workers

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I’m a single owner of an LLC – should I apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment benefits, or both? I haven’t been eligible for unemployment in the past, but I think I might be now – how does that work?

The Colorado Small Business Development Center is pleased to announce a webinar tomorrow, Friday April 10, aimed at independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers.

Get your questions answered about who should apply for unemployment, how to do it, when to expect funds, and more during this webinar hosted by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

When: Friday April 10, at 10am

Register for this Online Zoom Meeting at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_osmdiJb4SeSqh6S8rKCs0A

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Ask SAM: What the heck are “gig workers”? | Ask SAM

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Q: What the heck are “gig workers”? I keep seeing that phrase turn up.

J.W.

Answer: That is a phrase for freelance and contract workers who work short gigs, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, temporary workers especially ones hired for a specific task. According to Investopedia, a business news website, “the gig economy is based on flexible, temporary or freelance jobs, often involving connecting with clients or customers through an online platform.”

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