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More than 50 gig workers killed on the job: NPR

Portrait of Allyssa Lewis in her kitchen in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

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Portrait of Allyssa Lewis in her kitchen in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

Zerb Mellish for NPR

In August, Allyssa Lewis was on the phone catching up with her older sister, Bella, discussing meeting later that day.

“I was like, ‘hey, it’s the weekend, can you do my hair?’ She was like, well, I’m going to do Lyft today, so depending on how I feel after this, I’ll let you know,’” said Lewis, 23, who lives in the Dallas, Texas area.

But shortly after, Lewis received a call from a friend telling him that something serious had happened. She needed to meet her family and loved ones right away. She arrived in a panic and was confronted with a disturbing scene: police vehicles surrounding her sister’s body.

A random passenger had shot and killed Bella Lewis. She was 26 years old.

“He was just a caring soul that lit up the room with a smile. That kind of person,” Allyssa Lewis said. “I didn’t realize how much she kind of held our family together until she was lost.”

Allyssa Lewis outside her home in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

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Allyssa Lewis outside her home in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

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Lewis was one of more than 50 gig workers killed while driving for companies like Lyft, Uber and DoorDash since 2017, according to a new report from advocacy group Gig Workers Rising.

And while it’s unclear what the companies could have done to prevent the deaths, worker advocates say there has been a lack of support in the wake of the killings.

No death benefit and no right to sue

Unlike regular employees, the families of gig workers do not receive compensation, such as survivor benefits, even if they were killed on the job.

Catherine Fisk, an employment law expert at the University of California, Berkeley, points out that families of gig workers also cannot access the court system to file something like a wrongful death lawsuit.

Companies like Lyft require drivers to sign what are called forced arbitration agreements, which means they can’t sue if drivers get hurt or something goes wrong while on the job.

“Companies have structured their relationships so that they are not liable for injuries sustained by their drivers during their employment,” Fisk said.

So even though Bella Lewis died doing her job, her family paid for everything from funerals to burial costs.

“They weren’t going to pay anything,” her sister Allyssa Lewis said. “The driver’s window was knocked out somehow. They weren’t fixing that.”

Family photos of Allyssa Lewis’s family and her sisters’ ashes in her living room in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

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Family photos of Allyssa Lewis’s family and her sisters’ ashes in her living room in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

Zerb Mellish for NPR

Lyft sent its insurance company, Liberty Mutual, to see if it could provide compensation, Lewis and Lyft confirm. However, it paid nothing, including cleaning up the blood from the car she was killed in. Indeed, that was less than the $2,500 deductible that drivers pay out of pocket before the company’s insurance policy kicked in.

In a statement, Lyft said it tries to ensure all of its drivers are safe at all times and have access to in-app tools they can use if they feel at risk.

Allyssa Lewis looks at her sister’s memorial in her bedroom in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

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Allyssa Lewis looks at her sister’s memorial in her bedroom in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

Zerb Mellish for NPR

Lyft didn’t respond to questions about why it didn’t help the Lewis family with their funeral expenses.

A spokesperson for Lyft said the company attempted to contact the Lewis family after the death but was unsuccessful, but Allyssa Lewis said she never heard from the company.

“So I think the least they could have done was pay for the funeral expenses, kind of take that burden off the family,” she said. “My family is not necessarily a family that comes from money,” she said. “My sister here does Lyft to get that extra money.”

How dangerous is gig work?

Although there is some data to suggest that gig workers are at greater risk of fatal injuries on the job than other types of workers, it is difficult to know exactly how dangerous it is to be a gig worker, in particular. partly because the companies don’t publicly disclose the numbers on a regular basis.

Lyft and Uber release safety reports that reveal how many sexual assaults and other types of violence, including murders, occur during a car trip, but worker advocates say the reports should be more frequent and more detailed.

If traditional taxi driving is any guide, inviting strangers into a vehicle does damage.

Portrait of Allyssa Lewis in her living room in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

Zerb Mellish for NPR


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Portrait of Allyssa Lewis in her living room in Richardson, Texas on April 4, 2022.

Zerb Mellish for NPR

Driving a taxi is one of the deadliest jobs in the country in terms of workplace homicide risk, according to federal statistics. Taxi drivers are behind only retail clerks, cashiers, and police officers when it comes to the likelihood of being murdered on the job. However, most taxi drivers are employees who receive compensation from the employer in the event of a work accident or death.

Federal statistics show there were 21 taxi driver deaths in 2020. But that number includes traffic accidents. The gig worker report – which relied on GoFundMe reporting and campaigns – only focused on drivers killed by passengers or bystanders.

Meanwhile, Allyssa Lewis said she recently considered doing gig work to earn some extra income. But her mother intervened.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking of doing DoorDash today,'” she said. “And she said, ‘No, I don’t really feel comfortable around you. I don’t want you to do this. I’d rather give you money out of my pocket before you do this. “”

Lewis decided she was going to heed her mother’s wish.

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