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Gig Workers Say Restaurants Have Banned Them From Using Their Bathrooms

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Long before the coronavirus outbreak, finding access to a bathroom was a challenge for gig workers who have been known to carry pee bottles in their cars, and make detours to gas stations, public libraries, and even emergency rooms to relieve themselves.

The problem has gotten a lot worse in recent weeks. Workers say the majority of chains and independent restaurants, including Applebee’s, Chipotle, KFC, and Subway, have closed their restrooms to all non-employees, which includes gig workers. On a recent Reddit thread titled “Where the fuck am I supposed to pee? These restaurants aren’t letting me use the restroom anymore,” Manhattan food delivery workers on bikes advised each other to pee discreetly between cars, on construction sites, and in parks.

As neither customer nor employee, gig workers do not have the right to bathroom access during work hours; federal labor laws require that employers provide at least one bathroom for roughly every 15 workers, but that rule excludes gig workers who are considered independent contractors. Holding one’s pee for long periods of time can eventually lead to urinary tract infections and incontinence.

“It’s Subway, KFC, Chipotle—really all of them, with a few exceptions. Most of them have barricaded their doorways and have signs saying restrooms are not open to the public,” Susan, a GrubHub worker in Portland, Oregon, told Motherboard. Motherboard allowed the worker to use her first name only because she feared retaliation from the company.

“You end up keeping a tally of where there are restrooms, but really you never know where the job will take you, and sometimes you find yourself in a panic,” Susan continued. “It’s especially hard for women, but some of us will go behind bushes.”

On DoorDash and other apps, making a detour to use the restroom or wash up at a gas station can lower workers’ ratings on the platform, which factor into one’s ability to get lucrative assignments and remain on the platform.

To make matters worse, the increased demand on restaurants for delivery orders during the ongoing pandemic means that some gig workers have been waiting for hours outside of restaurants before their deliveries are ready without bathroom access. Gig workers who picked up orders at Mexican restaurants on Cinco de Mayo this year, in particular, described the conditions as a “shitshow” and “cluster-bomb,” with crowds of gig workers waiting for hours outside of restaurants slammed with orders. GrubHub, DoorDash, and UberEats told Motherboard that it is up to restaurants to enforce social distancing policies for gig workers and mitigate heavy foot traffic in and out their restaurants.

“It definitely is painful,” Tenesia Gathimbi, a DoorDash driver in Philadelphia told Motherboard who waited for an hour at a restaurants to pick up Mexican food on Cinco de Mayo. “Sometimes I won’t use the bathroom for two, three, or four hours. They time us from the moment we pick up to drop off, and I don’t want my time rating to go down.”

“With the combination of this job and coronavirus, I’m going to need PTSD therapy when this is said and done,” a DoorDash worker in Chicago told Motherboard. “We drivers have nowhere to pee even worse than before [the pandemic]. It’s really a problem when you’re out for hours and are older like me.”

When asked about bathroom access for delivery workers, a spokesperson for Uber noted that UberEats cannot tell restaurants how to operate, and referred Motherboard to its community guidelines which does not mention bathroom access for delivery workers but says that “restaurants should provide a safe area for order pickups that make delivery people feel welcome.”

GrubHub, DoorDash, and Postmates did not respond to requests for comment about bathroom access for gig workers during the pandemic. When Motherboard reached out to DoorDash in January, a spokesperson said the platform does not have any specific rules about bathroom access.

Chipotle, Subway, and KFC did not respond to a request for comment.

Brandi Au, a DoorDash and Postmates worker in Boise, Idaho with chronic asthma and diabetes, said not being able to wash her hands when restaurants began shutting down their restrooms caused her to fear for her health. At that point, DoorDash started providing hand sanitizer to workers in 400 of the 3,000 cities where it operates, which did not include Boise.

“It was frightening. DoorDash still hadn’t sent us our hand sanitizer when we lost access to bathrooms to wash our hands,” Au said. “You’re touching what the restaurant people touch, and handling everything. For the most part, I’d use a bottle of water and hand soap and wash my hands out of the window of my car. When I need to use the bathroom, it becomes a situation of just ‘hold it.’”

The CDC says washing hands with soap is more effective than hand sanitizer for preventing the spread of germs, but for gig workers who handle food and groceries, that’s not possible when businesses close their bathrooms to customers.

Do you work in the gig economy and have a tip to share with us about your working conditions? Please get in touch with the author Lauren at lauren.gurley@vice.com or 201-897-2109.

“As an independent contractor, I’m not employed by DoorDash,” said Au. “But if they’re going to punish me by taking away good jobs because my stats aren’t good because I needed to make a stop, that’s unfair. They’re making a fortune but can’t take care of the people out there who are working for them.”

Not having access to bathrooms is one of many ways gig workers, as independent contractors, receive second-class treatment. Motherboard reported last year that some Uber Greenlight Hubs segregate bathrooms for gig workers and employees. At a facility in Los Angeles, Uber drivers were scolded for using Port-a-Potties designated for employees.

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These gig-economy jobs can earn you extra cash during the coronavirus pandemic — without having to leave your home

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Layoffs are mounting as more Americans practice social distancing to contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus: some 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week — the highest ever increase in weekly jobless claims.

The dire economic outlook could be leading some to consider “gig” jobs, or temporary jobs, to help them get by until they land a permanent full-time role. Many people turned to the gig economy to pay the bills in 2008, when layoffs were far and wide.

But unlike 2008, laid-off workers need to take into account whether or not the extra money from certain gigs is worth potentially compromising their health. Many gig jobs — like driving for a ride-hailing app — involve close interaction with other people. But earning extra money doesn’t necessarily have to mean putting yourself at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

People turn to gig work when they need money — but the pay isn’t always great

Data suggests that people turn to gig work when they’re in a financial crunch: income typically drops by as much as 10% in the 10 weeks leading up to a when a person takes a gig job, according to an October 2019 report published by the JPMorgan Chase Institute
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But pay in the gig economy can be paltry. One of the most well-known gig jobs, driving for Uber
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typically pays just $9.21 an hour after fees and other expenses, according to a 2018 report by Lawrence Mishel, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C. Drivers still “typically make less than minimum wage in the large cities,” Mishel told MarketWatch this week.

An Uber spokeswoman refuted the report’s findings, saying it “makes several questionable claims and assumptions while altogether ignoring the flexibility drivers tell us they value and cannot find in traditional jobs.”

These days, rideshare drivers are shifting to becoming food delivery drivers on platforms like Uber Eats, Grubhub
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and Instacart. These drivers are allowed to travel freely through regions that have shelter-in-place orders because their services are deemed essential. Uber has been sending alert messages to its drivers encouraging them transition to being food couriers, a spokeswoman said. Last week 15% of drivers who received the message — and had never delivered an Uber Eats order — made their first delivery,” an Uber spokeswoman said.

As people are stuck at home and stocking up on groceries instead of going out to eat, Instacart is looking bring on more than 300,000 new personal shoppers over the next three months. Earlier this week Instacart workers went on strike to demand better safeguards against the coronavirus, including hazard pay.

Read: ‘Anybody who works at this point deserves hazard pay’: The working conditions that led one Instacart worker to strike

Instacart said in a statement that “the health and safety of our entire community — shoppers, customers, and employees — is our first priority.” The company noted it had 40% more shoppers on the platform Monday than at the same time a week before. Within the last week, 250,000 new people have signed up to become Instacart shoppers, and 50,000 have already started work, according to the company.

Many of these apps offer contactless delivery to help cut down on drivers’ chances of spreading or catching the coronavirus. But there are also some gig jobs that can be performed remotely.

Here are some examples:

Online tutoring and coaching

With schools shifting to distance learning, parents who work full-time jobs are tapping into virtual tutors. One platform, Varsity Tutors, a both online and in-person tutoring platform, launched Virtual School Day two weeks ago.

Virtual School Day is a program that provides daily lessons to K-12 students free of charge. Teachers and people with a background in education are paid as much as $40 an hour for teaching Virtual School Day classes. The service has a “higher bar” for Virtual School Day teachers, said Brian Galvin, chief academic officer for Varsity Tutors.

“They have to propose a range of lesson plans and how to make it interactive for 100+ students,” he said. Teachers have been jumping on the opportunity to teach some of their favorite lessons to students across the country with different backgrounds than their own students, he said.

“Classroom teachers have been saying ‘I have these awesome lessons I didn’t get to cover this year can I bring them to Virtual School Day?’” Galvin was pleasantly surprised both by how many children attend virtual school classes and by how many people with education backgrounds have become Virtual School Day teachers.

Varsity Tutors, a tutoring service that does online and in-person sessions, launched Virtual School Day two weeks ago. The program provides daily lessons to K-12 students free of charge


Varsity Tutors

“It was really heartwarming when a parent asked a first-grade Spanish teacher if she could do another virtual high-five since her child missed it,” he said. One benefit of online learning: Students who might otherwise refrain from participating in class are finding it a lot less nerve-racking, he said.

In addition to Virtual School Day, parents have also been paying for one-on-one online tutoring sessions. The hourly pay tutors earn varies based on subject and expertise but, typically, most make between $15 and $40 an hour, Galvin said.

But academic tutoring isn’t the only type of tutoring that is in demand.

Video game coaching

As more Americans are hunkering down at home, especially in states where shelter-in-place orders are in effect, video games are gaining popularity.

In fact Nintendo Switches
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a popular game console, have gone out of stock on sites including Amazon
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Target
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and Walmart
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(Nintendo Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment).

The unprecedented demand from both novice players and experienced gamers has benefitted Rio Spersch’s game coaching side-hustle. Spersch, a 27-year-old based in Vancouver, started offering virtual video game coaching services two years ago on Fiverr
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an online market for freelancers.

“After playing Overwatch” — a team-based game in which players band together to defend a fictionalized Earth — “I got pretty decent and I made it to the top 500 ranking,” Spersch, who goes by the name Riverr Blue on gaming platforms, said. He used to offer his teammates tips on how to improve their fighting skills and eventually someone encouraged him to consider charging money for his coaching.

Typically he coaches Fortnite
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and Overwatch players for 15 to 20 hours a week. But since his full-time job as an after-school animation instructor for elementary and middle-school students is in limbo after classes were cancelled, he’s been coaching games almost 40 hours a week, earning between $15 to $35 an hour.

“I keep getting dads or couples — and don’t get me wrong, it’s the most heartwarming thing to see them play — but I really prefer to work with kids ages seven to 13,” he said.

He said he would like to expand his business to teach animation classes geared for children over Zoom
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E-commerce

In the last week of December, there were 2,794 job openings within the U.S. for e-commerce jobs on ZipRecruiter, a job posting site. Two weeks ago there were nearly six times as many openings in the sector.

“Many stores, especially old-fashioned traditional ones, are really struggling to get any business right now,” Julia Pollak, an economist at ZipRecruiter, said. To open an online shop or list items on sites like Amazon, eBay
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and Etsy
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many small business owners are looking to hire temporary help.

For instance, a liquor store based in San Diego posted a temporary remote job for someone who is proficient in Photoshop
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to help edit photos of its products to sell online. That job pays $14 an hour.

Pollak said she doesn’t expect these jobs to “last very long,” given that traditional stores are likely to shift back to brick-and-mortar operations once shelter-in-place orders are lifted. In the meantime, these jobs are providing some furloughed and laid-off workers with “a safety net” of income that may “help them get out of this rut sooner.”

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