Coronavirus Highlights Fight For Benefits For Ride Share Drivers

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — The battle for ride share drivers to get benefits is in the spotlight as the COVID-19 crisis rages on.

Boston labor attorney and former Senate candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan spoke to WBZ NewsRadio about continuing the fight for Uber and Lyft drivers' rights during the pandemic.

Ride share drivers are providing critical transportation services right now, and are not subject to orders for non-essential workers to stay home because they are transportation workers. So, they're potentially driving sick people—or driving while sick themselves—because they have to.

"Our governor has said that these workers should be out there and we're relying on them, and yet, they're not protected," Liss-Riordan said.

Liss-Riordon is representing two ride share drivers who said they drove people from the now-infamous Biogen conference, which accounted for many COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. She said ride-share companies need to understand the gravity of the situation.

"They don't get paid if they don't work, so they've been faced with an almost impossible choice," she said. "Early on in this crisis, we did talk to a couple of drivers who were feeling a little sick, they were starting to hear about the news of the virus spreading, they were having what may have been some of the symptoms, they weren't really sure. But they didn't have any choice. They weren't eligible for paid sick leave under their companies' policies, so they did what they do every day—they went out there and they drove."

Liss-Riordan said the push for drivers' rights began long before the pandemic. They're "independent contractors," in a bit of a gray zone when it comes to getting benefits. An ongoing lawsuit that began last September demands more for them, and now the two drivers she represents have filed injunctions in the case about their having to drive while sick.

"What we're seeking is a declaration that Uber and Lyft drivers are employees, and that immediately, they get declared eligible for paid sick leave under our Massachusetts law," Liss-Riordan said. "We're making this argument on behalf of all Uber and Lyft drivers across Massachusetts."

She said the drivers need all the help they can get, but ride share companies are making it more and more difficult for them.

"These companies are denying that they are employees, and they haven't been giving them any of the rights that employees have," she said. "I think this crisis is just making even more stark what a dangerous problem that is."

WBZ NewsRadio's Jim MacKay (@JimMacKayOnAir) reports

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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