- Newly released data from the Small Business Administration shows that many Uber and Lyft drivers heavily relied on federal aid programs during the pandemic while the multi-billion dollar tech firms provided little to no unemployment assistance.
- The data, accessed by the Washington Post, reportedly shows that tens of thousands of gig drivers took in $80 million under the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program for small businesses, in addition to other aid for out-of-work contractors.
- Policy experts said it is unusual for such a vast number of workers operating under huge corporations to receive government aid of this nature.
- Experts also claim that workers’ access to federal assistance helped the two companies financially and alleviated pressure to make drivers employees amid tense political battles over the issue.
New Data on Gig Workers and Federal Aid
Tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers took in $80 million from a federal loan program during the pandemic while the multi-billion dollar companies refused to pay out unemployment, according to a new report from The Washington Post.
The report analyzed data from the Small Business Administration that was released after The Post and 10 other news organizations filed a federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Post’s analysis of the data showed that many gig drivers “were left without employer support” during a time when ride-share companies themselves reported that trips had dropped as much as 80% in big cities.
As a result, those drivers were forced to rely on a mishmash of different government aid programs. Specifically, the $80 million figure comes from a loan program for small businesses, similar to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), called the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program (EIDL).
According to The Post, both Uber and Lyft “were the two most common business names” in the EIDL. Nearly 20,000 grants and loans going to people with apparent ties to Uber and Uber Eats and more than 8,000 with ties to Lyft in their searches of the data.
Additionally, many drivers also received federal aid under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provided unemployment benefits for independent contractors who otherwise would not qualify, a well as loans from the PPP.
The Independent Contractor Debate Continues
Uber and Lyft, for their part, responded to The Post report by emphasizing what they did do for drivers.
Uber spokesperson Matthew Wing said that the company provided $29 million total in assistance to almost 100,000 drivers and couriers who tested positive for COVID-19 or who were told to isolate because of preexisting conditions.
Wing also noted that the company gave out free PPE, helped connect workers with other ways to earn money, and provided information on government assistance programs.
Lyft, by contrast, just provided information about what money its workers could get from the government without providing any financial support themselves. The company’s spokesperson, Julie Wood, even argued that drivers preferred to be independent contractors because it meant they could qualify for the government assistance.
But policy experts told The Post that it is highly unusual for such a big group of workers under the purview of such large corporations to receive that money. Beyond that, not only did the tech companies benefit financially from their workers tapping into programs they did not have to pay into, the aid also lifted the pressure for them to make drivers employees at a time when there was a political battle raging over the topic.
While these companies’ workers were relying on help from the government, rather than simply giving them benefits, the same gig economy employers were pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into efforts to ensure those workers stayed as contractors and did not have access to standard benefits under California’s Prop 22.
The measure, passed in November, provided the companies with a model they are now pushing in other states.
“More broadly, it reflects how a new economic class of workers was left to rely on the social safety net at the same time Big Tech added billions in value and fought regulation that would require gig firms to contribute more to social programs,” The Post wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider Australia) (The Verge)
United Airlines Dispels Complaints That Safety Will Be Compromised By New Pilot Diversity Initiative
- Later this year, United Airlines plans to open a pilot training school that will have a focus on diversity.
- According to a tweet from the company on Tuesday, the school plans to enroll 5,000 students over the next decade, with at least 50% of those students being women or people of color.
- The program has been met with condemnation by some conservatives, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who implied it would lead to increased plane crashes and deaths.
- Amidst the criticism, United has stressed that it is not lowering its safety standards but simply working to ensure that minority groups have more opportunities to become pilots.
United’s New Diversity Initiative
United Airlines is launching a new school that it hopes will increase diversity among pilots.
“Our flight deck should reflect the diverse group of people on board our planes every day,” the company said Tuesday on Twitter in a statement announcing the news. “That’s why we plan for 50% of the 5,000 pilots we train in the next decade to be women or people of color.”
Applications for the school are currently open, and United plans to enroll 100 students this year, with its first class of 20 beginning this summer. Reportedly, United and JPMorgan Chase will each provide $1.2 million in scholarships to incoming students.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 94% of pilots and flight engineers are white. That data also indicates about as many are men.
United itself said only about 7% of its pilots are women and only 13% aren’t white. With those stats in mind, United said it’s working with three historically Black colleges and universities to help drive recruitment.
United Faces Criticism From Tucker Carlson and Others
Since its announcement, United has had to contend with a hefty amount of pushback, as a number of people have replied to the company’s initial tweet by questioning the diversity initiative and its relationship with passenger safety.
“How about you hire experienced, good pilots regardless of race or gender?” one person asked. “I don’t care about a pilot’s race — I care if he or she can land the damned plane safely.”
How about you hire experienced, good pilots regardless of race or gender? I don’t care about a pilot’s race – I care if he or she can land the damned plane safely.— mindflayer (@mindflayer) April 6, 2021
In order to achieve this goal, will the acceptance criteria be different for women and minorities?— Bob smith (@Bobsmit48385443) April 6, 2021
Wednesday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson even implied that the initiative could lead to increased plane crashes and deaths.
“An airline pilot transports hundreds of people at a time in a thin-walled metal tube going nearly 600 miles an hour 35,000 feet off the ground. Flying a commercial airliner is dangerous,” Carlson said. “Like performing heart surgery, no matter how many times you’ve done it, it is inherently high stakes. People die if you screw up. In the airline business, as in medicine, not killing people is all that matters. So how will racial and gender quotas make United Airlines safer?”
“The CEO of United Airlines is saying that we need to replace the pilots currently flying airplanes because they’re the wrong skin color,” he later added. “Only diseased people think like this.
Factually, Carlson is wrong. United has made no indication that it is planning to replace current pilots; rather, it is likely responding to a long-term shortage of pilots, as many are soon set to begin retirement.
United has defended its program multiple times over the last couple of days.
“All the highly qualified candidates we accept into the Academy, regardless of race or sex, will have met or exceeded the standards we set for admittance,” United said in a clarification on its safety standards.
All the highly qualified candidates we accept into the Academy, regardless of race or sex, will have met or exceeded the standards we set for admittance. ^MJ— United Airlines (@united) April 6, 2021
Others on Twitter have also dispelled the criticism around the pilot program, with one user saying, “@TuckerCarlson missed the point, again. @united is training pilots to a level of safety of all other pilots. The standard isn’t dropping, the opportunity for underserved segments of the population is increasing.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Fox News) (Newsweek)
Restaurants Across America Face Ketchup Packet Shortage
- Single-serving ketchup packets are in high demand across the U.S., but producers of the condiment are struggling to keep up with orders.
- Restaurants have leaned heavily on packets for delivery and takeout options amid the coronavirus pandemic, and even when indoor dining began to return, the CDC advised businesses to opt for packets instead of shared bottles.
- As demand surges, so have prices, which were already higher than bottle options.
- Heinz, the biggest ketchup producer in the country, has promised to tackle the issue with a 25% increase in production, totaling 12 billion ketchup packets a year.
Restaurants across the country are struggling to get their hands on a steady supply of ketchup packets, making condiment production yet another facet of the food industry to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged traditional dine-in services to curb the spread of COVID-19, which forced many restaurants to lean on delivery and takeout. Even when indoor dining opened back up in some areas, the CDC advised restaurants to avoid using shared items like menus, condiments, and other food containers.
That means these businesses were suddenly forced to ramp up their take-out packaging efforts and offer more single-serving condiment options. On top of that, more people began cooking at home, triggering a 15% increase in retail sales of ketchup last year compared to 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal
As demand surges, so have prices, which were already higher than bottle options.
In fact, Long John Silver’s —a chain with nearly 700 stores, told the WSJ that the switch to packets is actually costing them an extra half-million dollars.
The company added that it’s been forced to seek ketchup from secondary suppliers, something Texas Roadhouse chains said they were also forced to do as well. Some restaurant staffers have had to scour wholesale stores like Costco and even turn to sites like Ebay.
Ketchup Maker Responds
Heinz, the biggest ketchup producer in the country, is at the epicenter of the problem since it’s responsible for about 70% of the U.S. retail market for condiments.
The company, however, promised that it’s trying to fix the issue. Just days ago, a Heinz executive told the WSJ that the company plans to open two new manufacturing lines in April, and more after that, increasing production by about 25% for a total of more than 12 billion packets a year.
Heinz already is running extra shifts at plants and cut back on some varieties to focus on making more single-serve packets. The company also invented a no-touch ketchup dispenser to help provide Covid-safe alternatives to shared bottles, but the pressure is on because the demand for single-serve packets is still expected to continue as the country opens back up.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Fox News)
Florida Governor Denies Wrongdoing in Vaccine Deal With Publix After “Pay for Play” Accusations
- In a “60 Minutes” segment that aired Sunday night, CBS reported that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) gave an exclusive COVID-19 vaccine deal to Publix grocery stores in Palm Beach County weeks before announcing that the chain had donated $100,000 to his political action committee.
- DeSantis and Publix have denied any form of “pay for play” deal, but this is not the first time DeSantis has been accused of engaging in a form of “vaccine favoritism” that had the effect of disproportionately benefiting wealthy, white communities.
- While some have defended Publix’s exclusive distribution deal, many others have noted that Walgreens and CVS pharmacies are much more abundant in the state and also more common in less wealthy communities.
“60 Minutes” Report on DeSantis’ Vaccine Favoritism
A Sunday night “60 Minutes” report on CBS found that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced a distribution partnership with Publix grocery store only weeks after the company donated $100,000 to his political action committee.
While both DeSantis and Publix have denied any wrongdoing attached to the deal, this news comes after the Tampa Bay Times reported that DeSantis was acting as a vaccine gatekeeper by directing doses to wealthy communities — with some vaccination pop-up sites being affiliated with his PAC donors.
It also comes after state Democratic leaders asked the U.S. Department of Justice in February to investigate whether or not DeSantis violated federal law by opening up a vaccination site that was only accessible to residents in two of Manatee County’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
Sunday night’s coverage on “60 Minutes” echoed those concerns, describing Florida’s vaccine rollout as “deteriorat[ing] into a virtual free for all” as “wealthy and well-connected residents cut the line, leaving other Floridians without a fair shot.”
“I imagine Governor DeSantis’s office would say, ‘Look, we privatized the rollout because it’s more efficient and it works better,’” reporter Sharyn Alfonsi said during the segment.
“It hasn’t worked better for people of color,” State Rep. Omari Hardy (R) replied. “Before, I could call the public health director. She would answer my calls. But now if I want to get my constituents information about how to get this vaccine I have to call a lobbyist from Publix? That makes no sense. They’re not accountable to the public.”
Hardy’s statement is notable because, as “60 Minutes” pointed out during the segment, poorer communities in Palm Beach County — where Publix was granted exclusive rights to distribute COVID-19 vaccines — do not have a Publix. In fact, for some in the county, the nearest Publix is around 30 miles away.
The segment also aired a confrontation between Alfonsi and DeSantis from last month in which DeSantis called the donation report “wrong” and “a fake narrative.”
“I met with the county mayor,” DeSantis told Alfonsi. “I met with the administrator. I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County, and I said, ‘Here’s some of the options. We can do more drive-thru sites. We can give more to hospitals. We can do the Publix.’ And they said, ‘We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.’”
“The criticism is that it’s pay-to-play, governor,” Alfonsi said.
In a voiceover, Alfonsi then said Melissa McKinlay, the county commissioner in the Glades, never met with DeSantis about the Publix deal.
“The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state’s vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive,” Publix said in a statement to CBS.
This is not the first controversial donation to be connected to Publix. Earlier this year, it was learned that Heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli donated $300,000 to fund the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
DeSantis Condemned Online
On Monday, “DeSantis,” “Publix,” and “Walgreens and CVS” all became top-trending U.S. topics on Twitter.
Many condemned DeSantis for the Publix deal while arguing that it would have made more sense for other pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, to lead the charge in vaccine distributions.
Others like Jesse Hunt, communications director for the Republican Governors Association, said, “60 Minutes makes the same mistake the dozens of national outlets have made when it comes to Ron DeSantis and Florida.”
“Publix was the first retail pharmacy ready to handle this massive undertaking & it’s objectively one of the most trusted & respected companies in America.”
Still, many were quick to argue Hunt’s claim, including Rep. Hardy.
“But they are typically not located in communities of color. So when he tried to make Publix the sole distributor in PBC, he was trying an approach that he knew would leave out people of color in Palm Beach County. This was a textbook example of systemic racism at work.”
But they are typically not located in communities of color. So when he tried to make Publix the sole distributor in PBC, he was trying an approach that he knew would leave out people of color in Palm Beach County. This was a textbook example of systemic racism at work.— Rep. Omari Hardy (@OmariJHardy) April 5, 2021