After Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos flew into suborbital space for around three minutes on Tuesday, he thanked some of the people who helped send him there: Amazon’s employees and customers.
“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this,” Bezos said during a post-flight press conference. “Seriously, for every Amazon customer out there, and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It’s very appreciated.”
For many workers who heard Bezos’ comments, the feeling wasn’t exactly mutual.
Multiple Amazon employees told Insider there appeared to be little interest in the launch, and that they wished Bezos would have spent the money on virtually anything else, like paying Amazon workers better.
“I heard he was going to space but to be honest, I didn’t really care,” an employee at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, told Insider, adding: “Me and my coworkers were joking that he should just go to Jupiter and live his best life there.”
“People certainly weren’t rushing to the TVs to watch,” one Amazon warehouse employee in Indiana told Insider. “I guess it was just a big deal for Jeff. We didn’t get anything out of it. Twenty-minute flight to space on us basically since we do the work.”
Amazon and Blue Origin did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.
Most of Bezos’ wealth is tied up in roughly 51.7 million shares of Amazon stock he owns, shares that have risen to more than $3,549 apiece since the company’s IPO price of $18 in 1997. And Bezos previously said he liquidates around $1 billion worth of Amazon stock per year to fund Blue Origin’s operations, so those who have helped Amazon succeed literally did fund Bezos’ space ambitions.
But some workers said they’ve paid for the success of Amazon, and by extension Blue Origin, in other ways that they’re not too happy about.
“I guess he’s thanking us for putting the money in his pocket to do so by our hard work, sacrificing our bonuses and stock options to make it possible,” the Amazon employee in Indiana said. (Amazon’s hourly warehouse employees aren’t eligible for stock options or bonuses).
“I feel like he just said that because he had a guilty conscience, he knows he’s wrong for making money off treating workers like slaves,” the Staten Island employee said, referencing the grueling and potentially dangerous conditions some Amazon workers encounter.
Amazon’s reliance on a massive network of contract delivery drivers allows it to avoid paying for their healthcare, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance, and 4,000 of its workers in just nine states rely on food stamps, passing those costs off to taxpayers and other employers whose payments into the social safety net help Amazon workers that have fallen through the cracks.
Amazon workers who spoke to Insider also said they felt Bezos should have spent more of his immense wealth addressing these and other issues instead of pursuing his space ambitions.
“I can think of a lot of other things he could do with all that money he spent on it, better wages for starters, the homeless, the poor, mental health,” another current Amazon fulfilment center employee told Insider.
“I think it’s selfish of him to be so self-consumed to send himself into space when there are so many homeless and hungry people in the world. He could end homelessness and hunger for everybody in the world and he chooses not to because he’s selfish,” said Vickie Shannon Allen, a former Amazon employee who became homeless after a workplace injury and a long battle with Amazon over medical expenses.
Amazon told employees it plans to stop offering onsite COVID-19 tests for its warehouse workers on July 30, The Information reported Monday.
In a note sent to employees via an internal app, Amazon said past safety measures had put the company on a “path to normal” and that “free COVID-19 testing is now widely available and our employees have many options available to them, including through health providers and public testing sites,” according to The Information.
Amazon told Insider it’s starting to scale back testing because of the progress it had observed among its workforce and the general public, that it’s continuing to evaluate temporary safety measures rolled out during the pandemic to ensure they’re aligned with guidance from public health officials, and that it’s prepared to resume testing as needed.
An Amazon worker in Minnesota told The Information the company has already started rolling back other safety measures as well, including routine temperature checks, though it’s still requiring unvaccinated workers to wear masks.
Amazon has required warehouse, delivery, and other logistics workers, deemed “essential,” to continue working in person throughout the pandemic to help the company keep up with surging demand, while many corporate employees have been able to work from home.
Amid reports of employees not being informed about COVID-19 cases in their workplaces and criticism over its lack of transparency, Amazon said in October it had identified more than 19,000 positive cases among its frontline workers, though experts called the study flawed and incomplete, Bloomberg reported.
Amazon hasn’t shared data publicly since October, and declined Insider’s request for current case counts or vaccination rates among its workforce.
Last year, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Uber-owned Postmates spent a record $203 million to convince California voters to pass Proposition 22, a company-authored ballot measure that let them avoid paying for new benefits the state had recently extended to their workers.
The companies said Prop 22, which created a new class of workers subject to different labor laws, would be a boon for workers of color and immigrants, who make up the vast majority of their drivers and delivery people.
But a forthcoming research paper by UC Hastings law professor and gig economy expert Veena Dubal argues that, despite the companies’ promises that Prop 22 would help achieve racial and economic justice for their workers, the law has had the exact opposite effect.
The new category of workers created by Prop 22, Dubal wrote, “is best understood as a new form of legalized racial subordination-lower wages and benefits for a people of color and immigrant workforce.”
Ride-hailing and food-delivery companies have pitched this hybrid employment status as an innovative “third way” to classify workers that offers the independence of being a contractor and some of the benefits that come with being an employee.
According to Dubal, such proposals are hardly innovative, and in fact look strikingly like discriminatory “wage codes” passed in the 1930s at the request of racist industrialists and plantation owners.
While those laws weren’t explicitly racist, their effects were. By exempting employers with mostly Black workforces, wage codes denied those workers minimum wage, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and unionization rights enjoyed by workers in majority white industries.
Dubal argues that Prop 22 is a recycled version of those racialized wage codes, and that this time around, companies used social justice arguments to persuade people it would have the opposite result.
Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
“There is a long history of systemic racism in traditional hiring practices, which is one of the reasons app-based work and the open access to earning opportunities it provides is valued by so many Californians,” Geoff Vetter, a spokesperson for the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Coalition, told Insider. (PADS, formerly called Yes on 22, was created and funded by the above companies to generate public support for Prop 22).
Co-opting racial justice language
Last August, Uber plastered 13 major cities with billboards that read: “If you tolerate racism, delete Uber,” timed to its sponsorship of a march commemorating the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
In September, Lyft aired a commercial featuring Maya Angelou reading her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” to announce its plan to provide subsidized rides to underserved communities during the pandemic.
“NAACP California, California State National Action Network, Hispanic 100, Si Se Puede Foundation, Black Women Organized for Political Action, and other trusted social justice leaders and civil rights organizations” supported Prop 22, Vetter told Insider.
The PR campaigns came amid a summer of uprising against police brutality and systemic racism, which in turn put pressure on companies to address racism within their own walls.
But the campaigns faced swift backlash from drivers and driver advocates who called them “gaslighting” and hypocritical.
The “delete Uber” language originally came from angry customers boycotting Uber for sending drivers to JFK airport during a taxi driver strike in protest of Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Lyft cherry-picked Angelou’s words, omitting her lines critiquing exploitative labor practices (while research shows that Uber and Lyft reduce revenue for public transit, on which communities of color disproportionately rely).
But the bigger hypocrisy, Dubal argues, is that the companies were “highlighting particular forms of racial subjugation, while ignoring and profiting from others” – namely, the racial subjugation of their own workers.
“New racial wage code”
During the Great Depression, Congress established the first federal minimum wage law, social security benefits, and union rights in a major win for workers.
But “racist demands” from industrialists and plantation owners led Congress to exclude agricultural and domestic workers – the majority of whom were Black – from those laws, subjecting them to seperate and unequal workplace conditions, according to Dubal.
Those exemptions let companies pay primarily Black workforces 20% to 40% less than the minimum wage, Dubal found, citing research by historian Donna Hamilton, “undermining the economic stability of Black communities for decades to come.”
Prop 22 isn’t much different, Dubal argues, but this time, companies are masking their arguments in racial justice arguments and confusing legalese rather than openly racist terms.
In 2019, California passed AB-5, extending long-standing minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and other protections to gig workers. After regulators and courts rejected claims by Uber and Lyft that AB-5 didn’t apply to them, the industry banded together to pass Prop 22, touting it as a boon to workers.
“Prop 22 guaranteed all drivers would earn at least 120% of minimum wage plus 30 cents per mile compensation toward expenses,” Vetter told Insider, pointing to claims by Uber, DoorDash, and Instacart that drivers are making more under the new law. (Companies’ earnings claims are difficult to evaluate because they refuse to share detailed pay data with the media, regulators, and independent researchers).
Dubal argues the bigger issue is that Prop 22 provides far less than what those workers should already have been receiving as employees under AB-5.
Under Prop 22, companies can: pay workers for only some of the hours they work; refuse to offer overtime pay, sick leave, family leave, and paid time off; cover just a fraction of healthcare costs; reimburse vehicle costs at barely 50% of the rate guaranteed to employees; provide bare-bones insurance that can leave drivers hanging out to dry; and avoid paying into unemployment and disability programs, shifting the burden to taxpayers.
These “second-class” labor protections, as Dubal describes them, become more problematic given the demographics of the workers subject to them. Lyft estimates that 69% of its drivers are people of color; one study estimates that, among all ride-hailing and food delivery workers in San Francisco, 78% are people of color and 56% are immigrants.
Ultimately, with Prop 22, Dubal wrote, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates “obscured the way in which the law created a new racial wage code, claiming instead to offer economic opportunities for people of color and concealing the exploitative conditions endemic to those ‘opportunities.'”
Amazon distributed a “health and wellness guide” to workers at a warehouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma, instructing them to train like “industrial athletes” in order to improve their performance on the job, Vice News reported Tuesday.
The guide, according to Vice, tells workers to “prepare their bodies” for walking “up to 13 miles a day” and lifting “a total of 20,000 pounds” during a single shift (more than 30 pounds every minute for a 10-hour shift).
The guide, Vice reported, discusses topics including nutrition, hydration, sleep, footwear, ergonomics, and injury prevention, with suggestions such as: eat five to nine servings of veggies per day, “monitor your urine color,” and buy shoes “at the end of the day when your feet are swollen to allow for plenty of room when they swell during work.”
Amazon also said in the guide, according to Vice, that workers could seek help from “injury prevention specialists” for “body discomforts that you may have as an industrial athlete.”
Amazon told Insider the guide was created “in error” and that it has “removed” the guide. It’s unclear if the guide was distributed at additional warehouses beyond the one in Tulsa.
Amazon did not respond to Insider’s follow-up questions about who was responsible for creating the guide, why no one noticed what the company claimed was a mistakenly created guide before it was distributed to workers, or when it was removed (Vice reported that the guides dated back to 2020).
Vice reported that it obtained the guide from former Amazon employee Bobby Gosvenor, who claimed the company told him to keep working even after he suffered a herniated disc – an injury he sustained due to a broken conveyer belt the company hadn’t yet fixed – and that Amazon delayed him from getting treatment for two months by forcing him to seek diagnoses from multiple doctors.
Amazon did not respond to questions about Gosvenor’s injury.
Vice’s report about Amazon’s “wellness” guide, which told workers how they should take care of themselves, comes the same day as an analysis from The Washington Post that found that Amazon is doing a significantly worse job taking care of its workers as competitors.
In 2020, about 5.9 out of every 100 Amazon employees were injured on the job, compared to 2.5 at Walmart, according to The Post’s analysis. That echoes previous reporting from Reveal and other news outlets showing that Amazon has long had higher workplace injury rates than what’s typical for its industry, and has deceived the public and regulators about those rates by underreporting injuries, delaying workers from seeking medical treatment, and assigning employees to “light duty” work in an effort to downplay the hours of labor lost due to serious injuries.
In response to The Post’s story, Amazon told Insider that the company is investing more in workplace safety and taking a number of steps to reduce injuries. One of those programs is its WorkingWell program, which includes phonebooth-sized enclosed boxes where employees can practice mindfulness.
In Jeff Bezos’ final shareholder letter as CEO, he also detailed Amazon’s plans to use algorithms to rotate workers between jobs in an effort to use all of their muscle groups rather than overloading one muscle group.
But none of Amazon’s wellness programs had previously appeared to address what some experts say is the root of its injury rates: demanding and inflexible productivity quotas, which require workers to complete a large number of tasks per shift and penalize them for “time off task.”
On Tuesday, Amazon published a blog post saying that it would measure each worker’s time off task over a longer period of time in an effort to focus more on resolving “operational issues” relative to identifying “under-performing employees.”
However, Amazon did not commit to easing up on its productivity quotas or allowing workers more time off task.
Aiha Nguyen, a researcher at the think tank Data & Society, who studies how Amazon and other employers use technology to extract more productivity out of workers, said in a recent report that the rise of workplace surveillance – along with weakened labor law – contributes to “work speedups, overwork, and injury.”
“Amazon has been leading the pack toward technologically driven speedups,” Nguyen said, citing its time-off-task policy and a game called “Mission Racer” that Amazon created to make workers compete with each other to fulfill customer orders.
“Making work into a race contrasts with other standard and accepted principles of engineering that set rates based on the ability of an average worker or the overall workforce, not an algorithm,” Nguyen said. “As a consequence, the injury rate for warehouse workers is increasing.”
In response to The Post’s report, labor groups affiliated with Amazon workers called for the company to end its time-off-task policies.
“The stunning analysis released today is proof that Amazon’s impossible productivity requirements are unsustainable and must be brought to a swift end. Amazon’s grueling and strenuous pace of work puts workers in increased danger of serious injuries, and appallingly has been used to punish any workers who push back,” Debbie Berkowitz, director of the worker safety and health program at the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.
“Amazon workers don’t need meditation booths. They need Amazon to end rate and Time Off Task requirements and redesign the physical layout of the jobs to provide workers with a safe workplace. Workers should not have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck,” she added.
Amazon released images this week of its new “AmaZen” booths, tiny cubicles designed for its warehouse employees to “focus on their mental and emotional wellbeing.”
The “interactive kiosk” would allow workers to take time out of their shifts to watch short videos, featuring positive affirmations, calming sounds, and guided meditations, Amazon said in a press release.
“Self care is important,” Amazon employee Kate Miller said in the press release. “AmaZen gives me an opportunity to take time for myself to just pause and regroup which helps me be better at work.”
Amazon originally released a video on Twitter showcasing the new booths on Wednesday, but later deleted the tweet.
The online retail giant launched $300 million “WorkingWell” program last week, which is intended to help workers “recharge and reenergize, and ultimately reduce the risk of injury,” the company said in a May 17 press release. The company said the program is designed to help Amazon achieve its mission of being “the Earth’s safest place to work.”
Amazon has for many years faced criticism over working conditions for its warehouse staffers and delivery drivers. A 2019 Insider investigation based on the accounts of 30 current and former Amazon workers described a “brutal” reality of long hours, physical labor, fears about taking time off, workplace injuries, and the pressure to keep the wheels turning, even when the weather is treacherous during the holidays. Amazon said at the time it was proud of its “great working conditions, wages and benefits, and career opportunities.”
Around a quarter of Americans say they work mostly in the gig economy, and 62% of those workers say that they’d rather not, according to a survey published Wednesday by McKinsey and Ipsos.
“Gig workers would overwhelmingly prefer permanent employment,” the survey found.
That preference is even stronger among immigrants and workers of color, who disproportionately make up the gig workforce.
Among those groups, 72% of Hispanic and Latino gig workers, 71% of Asian American gig workers, and 68% of Black gig workers said they’d rather be permanent or non-contract employees, as did 76% and 73% of first- and second-generation immigrants, respectively.
McKinsey and Ipsos surveyed 25,000 Americans over the spring of 2021, and 27% percent of those surveyed said their primary job at the time was as a contract, freelance, or temporary work.
But their resounding preference for the security, benefits, and legal protections that come with employee status could encounter some tough resistance: their bosses.
Globally, 70% of executives – mostly from large US firms – said they plan to ramp up their reliance on contract and temporary workers, according to a McKinsey study from September.
Corporate America has aggressively opposed efforts to reclassify contractors as employees, in many cases arguing that workers prefer the flexibility that gig work claim to offer. But McKinsey’s latest findings suggest that executives – often citing surveys that their own companies funded – may not be as in touch with workers’ needs and wants.
While companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Grubhub, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have played leading roles in familiarizing American consumers with the gig-based business model, they’re far from the only ones who have leveraged contractors to skirt labor laws and minimize their costs. (Insider has contacted the above companies for comment, and will update this story if they respond.)
Executives in the lodging, food service, healthcare, and social assistance sectors, are especially keen on relying more heavily on contractors, according to McKinsey.
That model also hit taxpayers hard, as they subsidized unemployment benefits for contractors laid off by multibillion-dollar corporations that, despite record profits, hadn’t contributed a dime to those funds on behalf of their workers. Taxpayers coughed up $80 million in pandemic assistance for around 27,000 Uber and Lyft drivers who lost their incomes.
State and federal lawmakers are increasingly considering ways to secure better pay, working conditions, and legal protections for contractors, from California’s AB-5 to recent talks between unions and app companies in New York, though experts say more wide-reaching labor law reforms are needed.
Bill Gates’ public image as a nerdy do-gooder has crumbled amid recent allegations of misconduct
In 1998, Bill Gates, then the wealthiest person in America, appeared before Congress to testify about whether Microsoft, then the wealthiest company in America, about accusations it was abusing its market power. Industry observers believed Gates was overly arrogant during his testimony, and the government eventually reined in Microsoft’s power in a landmark antitrust lawsuit.
Since then, Gates has tried to shed his reputation as a cocky tech mogul, instead crafting a public image of a nerdy do-gooder, largely through his philanthropy.
But since Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, announced their plans to divorce, reports about his conduct toward female coworkers and his relationship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein have chipped away at that image.
These allegations have come from a variety of sources and mention incidents dating back years before the divorce announcement, suggesting Gates’ private reputation has long diverged from the image he’s portrayed publicly.
Here are all the times Gates has been accused of questionable behavior.
1987: Bill Gates started dating Melinda French Gates while he was her boss at Microsoft.
While he wasn’t her direct boss, Gates ran Microsoft when French Gates joined as a product manager in 1987 straight out of college, and he asked her out in a company parking lot, she said at a 2016 conference.
2000: Gates had an intimate relationship with a Microsoft employee while married to French Gates.
In 2019, a female Microsoft employee told the company Gates initiated a sexual relationship with her in 2000 that lasted for years, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Microsoft’s board investigated the incident and wanted Gates to resign from the board, according to The Journal. Gates stepped down in March 2020 before the board completed its investigation.
A spokeswoman for Gates told The Journal his decision to step down “was in no way related to this matter. In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier.”
2006: Gates asked a female Microsoft employee out to dinner.
The New York Times reported Gates asked a female Microsoft employee to dinner after attending a presentation she gave.
“If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” Gates wrote, according to The Times.
2007-08: Gates asked a Gates Foundation employee to dinner.
The New York Times reported that at a cocktail party on a work trip, Gates asked a woman who worked for him to dinner.
“I want to see you. Will you have dinner with me?” Gates said in a hushed voice, according to The Times.
Some employees told The Times they were disappointed in Gates but didn’t believe his behavior was predatory.
2011: Gates continued to spend time with Jeffrey Epstein years after his sex-crime conviction.
The New York Times reported Gates met with Epstein at least three times beginning in 2011, despite French Gates’ objections. The meetings occurred three years after Epstein was convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor.
“Your characterization of his meetings with Epstein and others about philanthropy is inaccurate, including who participated,” Bridgitt Arnold, a spokesperson for Gates, told The Times.
2017: At least two Gates Foundation employees kept in touch with Epstein.
2018: Gates botched an investigation into a sexual-harassment allegation against his longtime wealth manager.
The New York Times reported French Gates wasn’t happy with how Gates handled a sexual-harassment allegation against his longtime wealth manager, Michael Larson, and pushed for an independent investigation after Gates tried to settle the case confidentially.
Amazon is facing a wave of five new lawsuits filed Wednesday by employees across its workforce who say they faced illegal discrimination and retaliation on the job, primarily from white male managers.
The lawsuits were filed by current and former Amazon corporate and warehouse employees in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They accuse Amazon managers and HR employees of racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination, as well as sexual harassment, and allege systemic biases in hirings, promotions, and firings at Amazon based on race and gender.
Four of the employees claim they were retaliated against after raising complaints, three of which were fired, and attorneys for the employees said Amazon’s top executives and HR department “routinely protected and abetted” abusive managers
“Women and employees of color at all levels of Amazon have had their complaints of harassment and discrimination brushed under the rug and met with retaliation for years,” Lawrence Pearson and Jeanne Christensen, attorneys at the law firm Wigdor who are representing the five employees, said in a statement.
“Amazon can no longer dismiss abusive behavior and retaliation by white managers as mere anecdotes. These are systemic problems, entrenched deep within the company and perpetuated by a human resources organization that treats employees who raise concerns as the problem,” the attorneys added.
In a statement to Insider, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We are conducting thorough investigations for each of these unrelated cases, as we do with any reported incidents, and we have found no evidence to support the allegations.”
“Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture. We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment in any form, and employees are encouraged to raise concerns to any member of management or through an anonymous ethics hotline with no risk of retaliation,” the spokesperson added.
The lawsuits come ahead of Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting, where investors are set to vote on a proposal introduced by the New York Common Retirement Fund that would require Amazon to undergo an independent racial equity audit. Amazon unsuccessfully tried to get the proposal tossed out.
Chris Smalls, an Amazon employee fired in March 2020 after protesting working conditions, also filed a lawsuit in November accusing the company of violating civil rights laws by failing to protect Black, Brown, and immigrant warehouse workers from COVID-19 while looking out for its mostly white managers.
The latest wave of lawsuits were filed by:
Tiffany Gordwin, a Black female senior HR specialist in Avondale, Arizona, who accused Amazon of tricking her into applying for a lower role than what she qualified and interviewed for, and who works for a white manager who is working on his master’s degree even though she completed her MBA degree seven years ago;
Diana Cuervo, a Latinx female warehouse manager in Everett, Washington, who claimed her Amazon supervisor made comments such as “Latins suck,” and said she was fired weeks after complaining about the harassment she faced as well as a gas leak in the facility;
Cindy Warner, a gay female Amazon Web Services executive in Irvine, California, who accused the company of falsely saying it didn’t hire internally for a position she was qualified for, and claimed a male coworker called her a “b—” and “idiot” in front of other coworkers and then fired her after complaining and retaining an attorney;
Emily Sousa, an Asian-American female warehouse manager in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, who claimed a male manager compared her to an adult film star, and that she was demoted after complaining about sexual and racial harassment by another male manager;
Pearl Thomas, a Black female HR employee in Washington state, who claimed her supervisor called her the “n-word” and that when she complained about racial discrimination, her own HR representative dismissed her concerns by suggesting she was emotional because of Derek Chauvin’s trial.
Shortly before 9 p.m. on March 2, in Lakewood, Colorado, Drew Wajnert was rear-ended by a drunk driver who was going 85 mph, sending his car slamming into the median and fracturing his spine.
“When he came up to me and asked me how I was,” Wajnert told Insider, “What he may have not seen was, not only did he rear-end me at 85 miles an hour, but I spun into the concrete divider at 50 miles an hour, and then spun to the shoulder to a dead stop.”
Emergency services arrived on the scene within minutes, taking Wajnert to nearby St. Anthony’s Hospital, where doctors performed surgery to install a titanium plate and four screws in his neck. Months after the accident, Wajnert – now in a special spinal-cord injury rehab center at Craig Hospital – still has braces on his neck as well as both hands and knees, and while he has regained some feeling, there is no guarantee he’ll ever walk again.
As a full-time Lyft driver, Wajnert spent much of his time helping keep drunk drivers off the road. Now he’s trying to prepare for the many physical and financial challenges ahead.
“I’m fighting as best as I can, but I am hospitalized and Lyft really isn’t doing anything for me,” he said.
“We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with Drew and his loved ones during this difficult time. We’ve reached out to Drew and a member of his family to offer our support and stand ready to assist law enforcement in any way we can,” a Lyft spokesperson told Insider. (Wajnert’s attorney, Kurt Zaner, said Lyft reached out after Wajnert began contacting media outlets to share his story).
Zaner said Lyft dropped a driver insurance policy when the pandemic hit that he believes may have covered Wajnert’s medical bills. Those bills could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Wajnert is planning to sue the driver, Alexander Marakas, who has been charged with vehicular assault, and possibly any bars that served Marakas, which could also be found liable for damages under Colorado’s “dram shop” laws. Marakas, through his attorney, declined to comment.
Lyft told Insider that, in Colorado last year, it didn’t make any changes to the insurance policies that cover drivers when they’re waiting for Lyft’s algorithm to find them a passenger (the phase Wajnert said he was in at the time of the accident).
But regardless of whether that specific pre-pandemic policy would have covered Wajnert’s accident, his situation reveals the glaring gaps in driver protections that are a direct result of Lyft classifying drivers as independent contractors. That strategy allows companies like Lyft and Uber to provide minimal worker protections, and helps them avoid legal and financial liability when drivers like Wajnert get hurt on the job.
A patchwork of policies
For Wajnert, who drove taxi cabs for 10 years in New Jersey, Lyft wasn’t a casual, part-time side hustle. Lyft has been his only source of income since signing up in January 2020, and he typically drove between 40 and 70 hours per week throughout the entire pandemic, completing 4,135 rides last year.
Wajnert leased his car, a 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, through Lyft’s Express Drive program, costing him roughly $240 per week. Lyft charged Wajnert $500 after his accident, the deductible for the insurance policy on the vehicle. (The company told Insider it has since refunded that charge as well as the deposit Wajnert initially paid to rent the vehicle).
When it comes to drivers, transportation companies carry a variety of insurance policies, and Wajnert said he was under the impression Lyft’s insurance policy would be sufficient in the event of an accident, so he didn’t take out his own policy on top of that. In reality, Lyft has a complicated three-tiered policy that only kicks in when drivers turn on their app, and only provides limited coverage if its algorithm hasn’t yet found them a passenger.
Many companies also carry what are called uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury policies (UM/UIM). These policies help pay for an injured driver’s medical bills and other expenses in the event that the driver who hit them doesn’t have enough insurance to cover those costs.
Before the pandemic, Lyft had UM/UIM policies that covered drivers. But on March 31, 2020, Lyft dropped those policies in Colorado and nearly every state where they weren’t required by law, according to documents seen by Insider, leaving drivers in a majority of states with no such coverage.
Wajnert said Lyft never told him about that change, however, or at least not in a clear way, and that he “absolutely” would have bought additional coverage on his own if he had known.
“There was no grand email or reachout, no phone call from the [Lyft] Hub or anything like that,” he said. “I can’t understand why Lyft would carry insurance for people that we injure, but not insurance for its drivers when a reckless drunk driver hurts us.”
Lyft’s website still advertises that it provides UM/UIM coverage for drivers, in certain cases, with a small footnote indicating “coverage, where provided, may be modified to the extent allowed by law.”
Wajnert said he only found out about Lyft’s lack of coverage through his attorney, Zaner, after the accident.
“If this happened a year and a half ago, Drew would be able to make a claim with Lyft’s underinsured policy, most likely,” Zaner said. “Lyft carried $500,000 to $1,000,000 of underinsured coverage. It was a nice benefit that was pretty much expected in that industry; taxi cabs have the same kind of coverage, and they still do.”
Lyft said it carries third-party liability insurance in Colorado, a requirement of laws governing rideshare companies, as well as Medical Payments insurance, which it says results in faster payouts.
But the fact that Wajnert may still be left to foot the bill despite working for Lyft when he was hurt is ultimately a consequence of the company’s core business model.
The precarity of independence
As Uber and Lyft face growing calls from regulators and driver advocacy groups to pass laws reclassifying drivers as employees, the companies frequently defend their current business model by pointing to surveys saying the majority of drivers want to keep the flexibility they enjoy as independent contractors.
When employees are hurt on the job, they’re entitled to workers’ compensation, funded partly by their employer, which pays them for wages they missed out on because of their injury, and covers all of their medical bills. They can also qualify for occupational therapy to help them get back to work or, in cases like Wajnert’s, permanent disability if their injury prevents them from working.
“Workers’ compensation laws were written with automobile workers in mind,” Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California, San Francisco Hastings School of Law, who focuses on the intersection of technology and dangerous jobs, told Insider.
These laws emerged in the 1930s directly as a result of “widespread industrial injury and fatality, but particularly on railroads and as a result of automobiles,” she said, adding that they were written “precisely” to protect people like Wajnert who work in especially dangerous industries.
“It’s so incredibly tragic that he, and many, many, many hundreds of workers in this country … are in this situation where they essentially will no longer be able to work or support themselves as a result of how the companies choose to classify them,” Dubal said.
Companies face substantially more legal and financial liability for work-related accidents involving their employees than they do for contractors. For example, Amazon has relied on this model to minimize liability when its delivery drivers are injured (or injure others).
As a result, companies like Lyft and Uber have the legal flexibility and financial incentive to carry less extensive insurance.
If Lyft drivers were employees, according to Dubal, the company would likely have commercial insurance covering “all the time” drivers spend working, not just when they have riders in the car, which she said may be only 40-60% of the time drivers are on the road. Instead, Dubal said, what Lyft offers currently is “minuscule” compared what’s required of companies subject to commercial insurance laws.
And for drivers like Wajnert who come from jobs where their employers have more robust policies, the gaps in Lyft’s coverage can come as a surprise – and something they don’t realize until its too late.
“It’s horrible. I want to get the word out to Lyft drivers who are currently driving to be aware that they’re not covered [by UM/UIM policies],” Wajnert said, adding: “I basically was a full-time employee for them.”
Lyft does not classify its drivers as employees.
Wajnert is hospital-bound for at least another month, joined by his sister, Melissa, who had to move from North Carolina to stay with him due to Craig Hospital’s requirement that rehab patients have a caregiver with them.
While he’s trying to stay positive and his friends have started a GoFundMe campaign to help him make ends meet, Wajnert said it’s going to be a long road to recovery.
Former Apple employee Antonio García Martínez has disputed the company’s account of his departure, claiming on Twitter on Friday the company fired him and that it was aware of the content of his autobiography, which came under fire from employees this week.
“Apple was well aware of my writing before hiring me. My references were questioned extensively about my bestselling book and my real professional persona (rather than literary one),” García Martínez tweeted.
Apple employees earlier this week internally and publicly criticized the company’s decision to hire García Martínez, circulating a petition, first reported by The Verge, calling past comments from his autobiography “misogynistic” and saying his hiring didn’t align with Apple’s stated values around diversity and inclusion.
Apple would not confirm the details of his departure, but spokesperson Tom Neumayr told Insider: “At Apple, we have always strived to create an inclusive, welcoming workplace where everyone is respected and accepted. Behavior that demeans or discriminates against people for who they are has no place here.”
Now, García Martínez is taking issue with Apple’s account of his arrival at, and departure from, the company.
“Apple actively recruited me for my role on the ads team, reaching out via a former colleague to convince me to join,” García Martínez tweeted.
“I did not ‘part ways’ with Apple. I was fired by Apple in a snap decision,” he said, adding “Apple has issued a statement that clearly implies there was some negative behavior by me during my time at Apple. That is defamatory and categorically false.”
Apple employees had criticized García Martínez’s 2016 book, “Chaos Monkey,” according to The Verge, where he wrote statements such as: “Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of s–t.”