Most of those killed were people of color, workers’ group and nonprofits say
At least 31 app-based gig workers in the United States were murdered on the job last year, the highest annual total since a workers’ group started tracking the number in 2017, according to a new report published Monday on International Workers’ Day.
Of that number, 77% were people of color and 26% were immigrants, said Gig Workers Rising and the nonprofits Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) and PowerSwitch Action, the organizations that wrote and published the report. Exact gig-worker numbers and demographics around the nation are hard to come by. But studies and the gig companies themselves have said that in some of the biggest U.S. markets, such as California, a majority of gig workers are people of color and immigrants.
Uber Technologies Inc. UBER, +2.64% showed up most often on the list, with 39% of those who were murdered working as either a ride-hailing driver or delivery worker for the giant gig company. Uber, which is scheduled to hold its annual general meeting next Monday, is recommending that investors vote against a shareholder proposal calling for a third-party audit on driver health and safety. It says it is currently undergoing a civil-rights assessment that will include safety issues, which it plans to release this spring.
Overall, more than half the workers who were murdered were ride-hailing drivers, according to the report, which is based on news reports, police reports and court records.
Gig Workers Rising released its first report on this issue last year, showing that more than 50 gig workers were murdered between 2017 and January 2022. The data “does not include fatal traffic accidents or other causes of injury or death of app-based workers,” both reports say.
The report’s authors point to the business model of gig companies as a factor, saying it “ensures drivers and delivery workers bear the consequences of workplace violence without adequate support.” The companies that appear on the list — Uber, Lyft Inc. LYFT, -2.49%, DoorDash Inc. DASH, +6.18%, Instacart and Gopuff — consider their drivers and delivery workers independent contractors instead of employees.
“In doing so, Uber, Lyft, and others continue a racist legacy of carving occupations dominated by workers of color out of basic legal protections enjoyed by other workers,” the report said.
The authors said the app-based gig economy’s pay structures, reliance on ratings, and deactivation policies that can kick workers off the apps at any given moment can deter drivers from canceling rides or deliveries when they don’t feel safe.
An Uber Eats driver in Southern California, who spoke with MarketWatch recently and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said recent reports about gig workers being killed have him on edge. Last week, an Uber Eats worker in Florida was reportedly killed and dismembered while on a delivery.
“This is terrifying,” he said. “I’m seriously considering no longer doing deliveries for Uber because of this. I hope they take care of his family.”
Here’s how gig companies’ spokespeople responded to the report Monday. (Only Gopuff did not respond to a request for comment.)
The report’s authors said they were unsure about which platform one driver on the list, Milton Pillacela Ayora, was driving for so they relied on the police report; Uber denies that the driver was connected to its platform. Another name was from the report Gig Workers Rising published last year, a company spokesperson added. The report’s authors said Michael Wallace was not on the previous list, and was listed under “in memoriam” but not counted in the data for the findings of this year’s report.
The spokesperson pointed to the two safety reports Uber has released for the 2017-to-2018 and 2019-to-2020 periods, saying that 0.0002% of trips had a report of a “critical safety incident.”
Uber also touted safety features in its app: “We’ll continue investing in critical safety features like the ability to chat with a live safety agent, record trip audio in the app in nearly 150 U.S. cities, and share their trip with loved ones,” the company said.
As for what the company offers families of the murdered workers, the spokesperson said Uber has programs to provide financial support; that each situation is unique; and that in many situations it does not require nondisclosure agreements, so nothing prevents those affected from talking about such support, if any.
The spokesperson did not address a question about how the majority of the workers murdered were people of color.
According to the report, eight of the murdered workers were working for the ride-hailing company.
A Lyft spokesperson touted the company’s different safety-related efforts, saying it has “a dedicated, around-the-clock safety response team, a partnership with ADT to aid in emergencies, and work[s] with leading national organizations to inform our safety policies.”
The company contacts the driver after each report of a safety incident, and the driver’s family if the driver cannot be reached, the spokesperson said. The company also said it has trained safety advocates who offer support to families of drivers who are killed, including possible financial assistance.
The spokesperson did not address a question about the demographics of the majority of gig workers killed.
Six people on the list were reported to have been working for the delivery platform DoorDash.
A spokesperson said more than 99.99% of deliveries on DoorDash are completed with no safety incidents, and touted the 11 safety features and initiatives the company has launched since November, including “SafeDash Check-In to give Dashers greater peace of mind while dashing, real-time safety alerts to help keep Dashers out of harm’s way, and an in-app feature to make it easier to report rare safety incidents if they occur.”
The company spokesperson said DoorDash offers occupational accident insurance, but did not address a question about death benefits for survivors of delivery workers who may be killed while on the job. He also did not address a question about the majority of gig workers killed being people of color.
The DoorDash spokesperson also said a U.S. survey it conducted in 2021 showed that nearly 100% of delivery workers it polled said they preferred delivery over ride-hailing because they believed it was safer.
One name on the report’s list was Justin Krumbah, a delivery worker for the grocery-delivery platform Instacart, who died in Washington state. An Instacart spokesperson said the company is offering support and resources to Krumbah’s family, though she would not share details, citing concern for the family’s privacy.
Generally, Instacart’s policy is to offer accidental-death benefit payments up to $320,000 for eligible dependents, and up to 10,000 for burial costs.