Billie Sue Matchke, a 71-year-old from San Diego, drove for Uber and Lyft during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus took her life and now Uber and Lyft are facing even more criticism regarding what they provide to their workers.
Matchke initially started driving for Uber and Lyft to supplement her pension, according to the Los Angeles Times. While she stopped driving for a few weeks when California first issued stay-home orders in March, she started driving again not soon after because she was having trouble securing unemployment benefits.
Around mid-June, Matchke fell ill. What started as a sore throat quickly turned into a devastating situation. She died in early July after the virus caused considerable brain damage. While the county conducted contact tracing, nobody else in the family’s immediate circle was confirmed positive for the virus.
Even with personal protective equipment like masks, disinfecting products, and partitions, drivers and passengers are still at risk of catching the virus because of how it spreads and how many different people they are coming into contact with.
For years, rideshare drivers and their advocates have been fighting for additional protections from companies like Uber and Lyft. Because drivers are classified as gig-economy workers, as opposed to employees, they’re often left without benefits like health care, sick time, unemployment, and more. Now that rideshare drivers are also facing the possibility of infection because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some are arguing that drivers shouldn’t be forced to risk death just to make ends meet.
In California specifically, Uber and Lyft have refused to pay into the state’s unemployment fund. This has made it difficult for roughly 500,000 drivers to secure payment in recent months. Drivers have also struggled to obtain unemployment insurance. To receive the insurance, the Employment Development Department sends a determination letter based on paperwork filed by Uber and Lyft. Workers can file appeals and wait for the state to set up an audit to verify proof of income. This process can drag on for months.
Uber and Lyft have not commented on Matchke’s passing or the possibility of other drivers experiencing the same fate. Both companies are still fighting back against making their workers employees.
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