‘Pattern’ of gig worker murders reveals safety gaps: labor group | Workers’ Rights News

Two years after fleeing political persecution in Bangladesh, Salauddin Bablu was stabbed to death in Manhattan by a man who stole the electric bike he used to deliver food during long shifts for the Grubhub app.

“When Salauddin died, his family lost everything,” Bablu’s brother-in-law, Muhammad Ahsan, said by phone from New York City, adding that Bablu used to send half his earnings to his wife and children back in Bangladesh.

Bablu’s 2021 murder is one of more than 50 documented in a report issued on Wednesday by California-based labor group Gig Workers Rising, which said app firms in the US must do more to protect drivers from crime while they are out on the streets working.

The group tracked the murders of gig workers from 2017 using information such as news reports and families’ GoFundMe pages and found that more than 60 percent of the victims were, like Bablu, people of colour, many of them immigrants or new arrivals to the United States.

In 2021, Uber introduced new safety features, including allowing drivers and passengers to record audio of calls, and offers supplemental injury protections [File: Mike Blake/Reuters]

Workers in the gig economy are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities, the Pew Research Center has found, with non-white workers more likely to report “troubled encounters” such as feeling unsafe.

A Grubhub spokesperson said the safety of drivers and couriers “is our top priority,” and that it will “work with state and local governments across the country to implement safety measures”.

Ahsan said the company offered Bablu’s family a sum of $15,000 following his murder.

“It’s really nothing – it can only support the family for a few months,” Ahsan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “These are very dangerous jobs – and the companies need to be more accountable.”

The report said major app-based companies including Uber, Grubhub, Lyft, Postmates and Instacart do not do enough to keep gig workers safe, and offer inadequate compensation when they are targeted by criminals while doing their jobs.

“These are not isolated incidents … This is a pattern,” said Cherri Murphy, a former Lyft driver who worked on the report.

In emailed statements, all the gig companies mentioned in the report said they prioritized workers’ safety. Some have introduced new safety precautions and injury or death benefits.

Workers assaulted, killed

But in light of the dangers often faced by gig drivers and delivery workers, which can include carjackings and robbery, critics of the app companies say they should give the workers the benefits of full-time employment.

Gig firms have campaigned to classify workers as independent contractors, rather than employees, a move that saves Uber and Lyft $392mn in annual costs associated with insurance and taxes in California alone, according to estimates by Reuters.

drivers' protest in California
On August 10, 2020, a California judge ordered ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees, not contractors [File: Rich Pedroncelli/AP]

“We know workers who drive for a living are 20 times more likely to be murdered than people doing other jobs,” said Veena Dubal, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, who has pushed to extend full employee rights to gig workers.

In 2021, Uber introduced new safety features, including allowing drivers and passengers to record audio of calls, and offers supplemental injury protections.

Some gig firms offer death benefits, but the protections often fall short of those given to traditional employees, Dubal said.

Grubhub, the company Bablu delivered food for, did not respond to a request for comment about what insurance or death benefits is offered to workers.

“The companies are responsible for putting workers’ lives at risk,” said Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Workers Justice Project, which helps organize the delivery drivers collective, Los Deliveristas Unidos, which means Delivery Workers United in Spanish.

Her group has recorded at least 16 delivery drivers killed on the job in New York City between 2020 and 2021 in both accidents and assaults.

“We’re holding vigilantes all the time,” she said.

Uber’s most recent safety report, from 2019, showed that seven workers were assaulted and killed in 2017 and 2018. Lyft documented 10 killings between 2017-19.

None of the other major platforms has made such data public, according to Gig Workers Rising.

Murphy said that made it difficult to know the true scope of safety issues, calling for a ban on non-disclosure agreements and for companies to make more data public.

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