Gig economy workers in Fox Valley struggling to make ends meet due to COVID-19

Carter Uslabar, Editor in Chief

As gig economy workers see a huge decrease in user demand for rideshare services, local drivers are facing a balancing act, weighing financial and health related consequences as they adapt to COVID-19. 

In an April 10 post on its company blog, Uber said it was expanding compensation for drivers who are struggling due to the coronavirus.

According to the post, drivers must provide written documentation from healthcare providers or government public health officials that they have COVID-19, have been told to quarantine due to COVID-19 or have pre-existing health conditions making them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. 

Allen Straka, a PC analyst at ThedaCare, stopped driving for Uber two weeks before the Safer at Home order from the Evers Administration. 

“To me it wasn’t worth getting myself or my fiancee sick,” Straka said. “I also work at the hospital and am around sick and immunocompromised people on a daily basis and just felt the risk was greater than the reward for my specific situation.” 

Straka said he drives casually and that the income he earns from Uber is primarily for leisure, but for other drivers in the Fox Cities area, Uber was their main source of income. 

UWO alumna Katie Carney said she became a driver for Uber because as a single mother of four, it allows her the flexibility to set her own schedule. 

“I have tried other part-time and full-time jobs, but it always leaves a boss disappointed when I put parenting first and I am the only one who can pick up my sick kid from school office with 30 minutes notice,” Carney said. “If I am doing Uber or Lyft rides, I finish that ride, sign off the app and I am able to go back to parenting pretty quickly.”

Carney said she earns about 70% of her income from driving for Uber, but since schools have closed, she’s had no choice but to stop driving to be home with her children, severely cutting her income. 

“I am unsure what next month will look like, honestly,” Carney said. “I’m going to have to start using my little bit of emergency savings.” 

Tyler Salmeri said Uber has been providing about 95% of his income while he starts his own insurance agency in Appleton. He’s recently had to stop driving because his wife is at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.  

“I am really hoping for unemployment to come through so I can pay rent,” Salmeri said. “I just feel as though there is no help.” 

For other gig economy workers who do food deliveries, the Safer at Home order has been a boon to their earnings. 

Pam Fleming is a junior at UW Oshkosh who drives for DoorDash. Fleming lost her two jobs on campus due to the university’s closure, and said she is now without about 70% of the income she needs to get by. 

“I am working usually five to eight hours a day on DoorDash to make up for my loss of university work and [the university] thinking that a $200 one-time payment for student workers is enough to help us,” Fleming said.

Fleming said she’s noticed an uptick in orders since the Safer at Home order, especially over Easter weekend. She said she’s glad to see the increase in orders because it means less people are going out, and it means more money for her, too. 

While compensation is available, it might not apply to every driver or those who need it most. Gig economy drivers have been uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, for better or for worse.