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Uber, Lyft Abortion Travel Pledges Omit Most of Their Workforces

July 14, 2022, 9:00 AM

Lyft Inc., Uber Technologies Inc., and DoorDash Inc.‘s pledges to cover employees’ abortion travel stops short of including the thousands of drivers, shoppers, and delivery staff who make up the majority of their workforce.

Gig economy companies, some even before the Supreme Court overturned nationwide abortion protections, said they’d help pregnant workers travel to get the procedure as an employee benefit.

But that pledge excludes drivers—who generally don’t receive health insurance because the companies classify them as independent contractors. Lyft, DoorDash, and Uber told Bloomberg Law that they’ll only cover abortion travel for employees. TaskRabbit, which said in June it would pay for employees to travel for an abortion, didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether that pledge includes drivers.

A growing number of these workers are female, especially in delivery. DoorDash last fall reported that more than half of its delivery drivers are women. Uber Eats saidthat its female workforce grew by 80% in the first three quarters of 2021.

“They’re at a crossroads,” said Shelley Alpern, director of corporate engagement at Rhia Ventures, a nonprofit focused on expanding reproductive healthcare. “They can either make an exception or they can reclassify the workers.”

Independent Contractors

As independent contractors, drivers often don’t receive health insurance, sick days, or worker’s compensation. The arrangement helps app-based companies keep down labor costs. So funding abortion travel for drivers and not basic health insurance “just makes no sense whatsoever,” said Alison Taylor, a business ethics professor at New York University.

Those same drivers likely can’t afford abortion travel on their own, widening the divide between the industry’s office employees and low-wage workers. Americans from families who earn less than $42,000 per year are more likely than their affluent counterparts to earn money through gig-economy apps, according to the Pew Research Center. The center adjusts the income level for larger families and location.

App-based companies have long lobbied state and federal officials to create a new category for their workers that grants them some benefits without giving them the title of “employee.” Companies such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart Inc.poured more than $200 million into a California ballot measure that declared drivers were independent contractors. A California state judge in 2021 voided it.

The US Labor Department is also, again, looking to rewrite how it interprets whether workers should be classified as independent contractors. The proposal still needs the White House’s approval and could give the corporations an opening to extend travel benefits to drivers without calling them employees.

Some Benefits

The companies already provide some benefits to gig workers in a few states, such as California and Washington, as the result of new laws that promise job benefits to drivers in exchange for cementing their status as independent contractors.

“Whether or not we are in the office behind a desk or behind the wheel, we deserve” health insurance and sick leave, said Cherri Murphy, a former Lyft driver turned gig worker organizer.

Companies could also write drivers a check to buy their own health insurance, said Marta Fernandez, a labor attorney at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP who represents transportation companies. Fernandez doesn’t represent gig-economy corporations, she said.

Lyft, Uber, and DoorDash have promised to pay legal fees for drivers who are sued under Texas’s new abortion law, which threatens to hold anyone who helps someone obtain the procedure legally liable. Lyft, along with Planned Parenthood, is also developing a service to drive patients to abortion clinics, said Kristin Sverchek, the company’s president of business affairs.

But that’s a benefit mostly for men, who are in the majority among Uber and Lyft drivers. Women and non-binary people often choose to pick up food instead of customers, according to Pew.

“This is just one more way that whether you’re able to access an abortion depends on where you live, where you work, and how you work,” said Julie Vogtman, employment counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.

To contact the reporter on this story: Courtney Rozen in Washington at crozen@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernie Kohn at bkohn@bloomberglaw.com; Laura D. Francis at lfrancis@bloomberglaw.com