California taxi drivers were left without unemployment benefits

Uber and Lyft have refused to comply with California law, which equates taxi drivers with wage earners. Therefore, drivers who lost income due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic could not receive unemployment benefits. The adopted law severely restricts cases in which the employer may classify workers as independent contractors and thus deprive them of their right to compensation and collective claims. However, Uber, Lyft, and food delivery company DoorDash launched a campaign to repeal this law, which spent $ 110 million.

Jobless California taxi drivers
Jobless California taxi drivers

“We are unable to apply for unemployment benefits because we are treated as independent contractors,” says Hector Castellanos, an Uber taxi driver from Antioch, located 45 kilometers from San Francisco.

Castellanos, the forty-nine-year-old father of two, was forced to stop working after quarantine in California on March 17th. He applied for benefits under the Assistance to Independent Contractors during a Pandemic program, which started six weeks ago, but has still not received financial assistance.

Uber driver Saori Okawa, a thirty-seven-year-old immigrant from Japan, after declining her income by more than half, applied for unemployment benefits in the second half of March, but Uber, citing Okawa as an independent contractor, refuses to provide Employment Development Department information about her income, which is necessary for calculating benefits.

To express their protest, at the beginning of the month, taxi drivers Kastellanos and Okawa joined several dozen colleagues who drove by car to Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, where an online meeting of the company’s shareholders was held at that time.

“These companies spend millions of dollars fighting the law instead of spending this money on sick pay for taxi drivers,” Castellanos says indignantly. He knows very well what it means to be left without funds: once after the accident, he could not work for eight months, because of which his daughter was forced to drop out of college and look for work.

Saori Okawa now delivers (mainly food), working simultaneously for three aggregators, which allows her to make ends meet. Now her working day is from 7:30am to 8pm, with no breaks, five or six days a week.

One of the consequences of economic crises in capitalist society and, by the way, one of the ways out of these crises is the formation of a “reserve army of labor”. This “army” is formed of people who have already lost their jobs or are in danger of reduction, who are forced to work for low wages, perform several types of work at the same time at no additional cost, work overtime without extra charge, work for several employers, and waive the right to rest. At the same time, it is not necessary that the employers themselves have serious economic problems. It’s just that a wonderful opportunity arises to optimize costs and increase profits due to more efficient exploitation of workers, justifying this with an economic crisis, the fault of which is coronavirus or another “objective” circumstance.

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