For gig workers, the pandemic has brought many risks and uncertainties.
Now Uber and Lyft are threatening to shut down service in California after a court ordered the companies to comply with a law classifying drivers as employees instead of independent contractors
Uber driver Rosa Mendoza of Oakland, supports the order because she believes the company is not doing enough to help her as she puts her health at risk.
"I have my own towels. This is for cleaning. All these things are for cleaning," she told KCBS Radio as she rummaged through the small stockpile of cleaning supplies in her trunk, most of which she has purchased herself. Images of Catholic saints line her dashboard for safe measure.
"I’m like, let’s go to work, and you protect me," she explained.
While Uber says it has spent millions of dollars on protective gear for drivers, Mendoza said all she has received was one half empty spray bottle and a handful of masks.
"Not enough," she said.
Mendoza is 50 years old and prediabetic.
She has been driving for Uber for three years, but took a break during the coronavirus pandemic after a frightening incident where a visibly-ill passenger threw up in her car.
Advocates contend the pandemic is proving why drivers need employee status, which would make drivers eligible for important relief such as overtime pay, sick leave and more PPE.
But driver Mike Lang of Mill Valley said he likes things the way they are.
"The flexibility, of course. Being able to go out and do wherever I want, whenever I want, earning what I want," as an independent contractor, which he has been for six years.
He agreed that Uber has not given drivers much support or PPE, but he never expected them to.
"What support you should expect as a driver is probably the same as you’ve always gotten. Very little," said Lang. "They don’t give us gasoline, tires, or fix our cars either...my car is my office. If I care about my desk, I’m going to have those things. It’s just an added cost...it’s my business. So if it’s not profitable, I don’t do it."
For him, Uber has meant good money and flexibility. So, he takes it seriously when Uber and Lyft say they may have to shut down service in California because of the order.
As for Martinez, who is driving for Uber again after her unemployment checks diminished, she said of CEO Dara Khosrowshahi: "He can do whatever he wants, anyway, he do. He’s just trying to bully these poor people."