A survey of more than 500 drivers reveals that California rideshare drivers, particularly Latinx drivers, are struggling to access health insurance and a safe workplace.
By Eliza McCullough and Brian Dolber of Rideshare Drivers United*
In 2020, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other tech industry giants led a referendum campaign to exempt themselves from classifying their workers as employees under a California state law known as AB5. Spending a record-shattering $220 million, the companies argued that Proposition 22 would protect California’s app-based workers’ “flexibility” while providing benefits, including health insurance stipends, and safety trainings. Proposition 22 passed on the November 2020 ballot, with 58 percent of the vote.
In fact, the companies’ victory stripped drivers of basic employment rights, including health-care benefits, an hourly minimum wage, and health and safety standards. Labor law professor Veena Dubal called Proposition 22 “the most dangerous law to workers since Taft-Hartley,” which dramatically restricted unions, arguing that it sets a dangerous precedent for employment standards across industries.
While the industry campaign focused on Prop 22’s worker protections, these protections are narrowly defined in the law and are not equal to the legal protections given to employees. Drivers are eligible for a partial stipend to cover health insurance premiums, and only if they meet multiple qualifications.  Prop 22 also required that companies administer safety trainings to all drivers, which must include information about how to report instances of sexual harassment or assault. This requirement, however, is much weaker than protections employees have under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. With the outbreak of the coronavirus, the loss of guaranteed health insurance and workplace safety standards have caused unprecedented health risks for drivers.
To understand whether drivers are accessing benefits, we conducted a survey of California-based drivers who are members of Rideshare Drivers United (RDU), asking them about their access to health insurance, health insurance stipends, and safety trainings. The survey was conducted between May 19 and June 12, 2021, and was completed by 531 drivers. Given the racial inequities apparent in the survey data, we sought to better understand the experiences of drivers of color with follow-up interviews. We conducted 10 interviews with uninsured drivers of color who have driven since January 2021. Two of these interviews were conducted in Spanish, with primarily Spanish-speaking drivers. See the endnotes for the Spanish version of quotes from these interviews.
Our survey revealed the following:
- Just 10 percent of respondents are receiving a stipend while 40 percent of respondents either never heard about their ability to qualify for the stipends or weren’t sure if they had received notification.
- Drivers are either turning to public health-care options or forgoing health insurance altogether: Twenty-nine percent of respondents rely on Medi-Cal. Sixteen percent of all respondents are uninsured which is double the national uninsurance rate.
- Latinx respondents are less likely to know about the stipends and are also more likely to be uninsured.
- One in six respondents have not received a safety training from a rideshare or delivery company.
Many drivers we interviewed expressed frustration with the challenges in getting insurance under Prop 22, and most saw it as part of a larger pattern of deception and disregard for the workforce by Uber and Lyft. In some cases, drivers reported significant hardship in obtaining medical care.
To immediately improve access to health care and workplace safety, we recommend removing health-care stipend restrictions, improving transparency of stipend rollout, targeting outreach to drivers who are more likely to be uninsured, and improving implementation of safety trainings. Long-term policy changes are also needed to create a rideshare industry that provides quality jobs. California legislators should repeal Prop 22 and other state legislators should prevent the passage of Prop 22 clones. The federal government also has an important role to play in ensuring just working conditions and a living wage for all gig workers through policies such as the PRO Act as well as a single-payer, national health insurance program.
A majority people-of-color and immigrant workforce.
Among our survey respondents, 65 percent are people of color, 52 percent were born outside the US, and 37 percent speak a language other than English as their primary language. Eighty-five percent of respondents drive for Uber, 68 percent drive for Lyft, and 59 percent of respondents drive for a food delivery service (like Uber Eats, Postmates, or DoorDash). Sixty-six percent of respondents drive for more than one platform and 75 percent have driven since January 1, 2021 when Prop 22 took effect. Fifty-one percent of respondents were over the age of 50 and 21 percent of respondents were over age 60, making their access to health insurance particularly important. There is no quality source of driver demographic data to assess the representativeness of this sample. However, a recent study of San Francisco drivers shows that like our respondent population, the majority of drivers are people of color, immigrants, over 30 years old, and drive for multiple platforms.
Uber and Lyft are failing to adequately notify their drivers about their ability to qualify for health insurance stipends.
Forty percent of drivers surveyed do not recall being notified about the stipends, with large differences across racial/ethnic groups. Latinx drivers are least likely to know about the stipends: about half of Latinx drivers don’t recall receiving any notification or aren’t sure.
One 31-year-old male Latinx driver in Los Angeles noted, “No one ever reached out and said what it was.” The lack of communication from the companies does not surprise him. “To be honest, they don’t care about drivers. I knew [the promises of Prop 22 weren’t] going to come true.”
Those who were notified said they received emails or text messages from the companies. Information alone, however, has not meant accessibility. For example, one 36-year-old male, Spanish-speaking driver in Los Angeles, said, “I received an email with the information. On the app there is also the hours tallied that you need in order to qualify for the voucher. I also worked DoorDash during the pandemic. I was jumping all over the platforms, Uber, LYFT, DoorDash. With Uber I have to spend 20 hours with a passenger to qualify, weekly. They lied to drivers about the medical insurance because I'm out here working and I don’t have insurance.”  Narrow eligibility requirements, on top of poor communication, has made accessing insurance stipends difficult for many drivers, especially drivers of color.
Prop 22 reduced access to health care: fewer than one in five drivers are receiving health-care stipends.
Prop 22 requirements have not made up for drivers’ lost right to health care as the vast majority of drivers do not receive health-care stipends. This is largely due to the narrow requirements to qualify for stipends under Prop 22. In order to qualify, drivers must not receive health care through Medicare, Medi-Cal, another job, or a partner or spouse. Drivers also must drive at least 15 engaged hours per week on one app to receive the minimum stipend. Drivers have also reported that they must “show a proof of health insurance within a certain time frame prior to applying for the stipend,” indicating that drivers who are uninsured may also not qualify. Together, these requirements prevent the vast majority of drivers from accessing the health-care stipends promised under Prop 22.
Many drivers are ineligible because they have seen their income decline during the pandemic, and thus have reduced their hours. One 49-year old male driver in Los Angeles, and his 18-year old son, have both been without insurance for nine months for this reason. “The pricing has gone down to 50 cents [per mile], so I’m very rarely driving these days,” he said.
While he did not vote for Prop 22, he supported it. “I thought I’d get free insurance,” he said. “I feel stressed.” He says his son had a medical emergency, and he had to rely on Medi-Cal, the public insurance program, to cover expenses. “I’m worried about me. I’m almost 50 and I don’t know what’s going to happen if I just keep driving for Uber and Lyft.”
The 36-year-old male, Spanish-speaking driver in Los Angeles noted, “Drivers feel duped. These companies spent so much money on propaganda. They control the platform. As drivers we have no control. These changes from the companies look cute until the truth is revealed. The hours needed to qualify are too much for what is fair. They lied to us. Uber has been making too many changes without input from drivers.” 
One 66-year-old male driver in the San Diego area says he does not drive enough to receive a stipend because he took on an additional job to make ends meet. He says he is fortunate to live in Tecate near the US-Mexico border. He crosses the border to receive affordable care. “Some of the best doctors are in Mexico,” he said. “If you wait 15 minutes it’s too long.”
Among survey respondents who have driven since Prop 22 took effect and don’t receive health insurance through a public program or their spouse, only 19 percent are actually receiving health-care stipends. People who identify as multiracial or a racial group outside of those listed on the survey were least likely to receive a stipend. Even if only 50 percent of drivers are meeting Prop 22’s engaged-time qualifications (an estimate we think is conservative), a shockingly low share of drivers are receiving health care stipends.
Some drivers also said that the stipends are too low to cover expenses. One 53-year-old male driver in Sacramento has been uninsured since 2010 and has had significant medical expenses over the years, including dental work and kidney stones. But he says even with the stipend, an insurance plan is still too expensive because the stipend only covers a portion of the premium. “I refuse to pay for something like that,” he said. “I’m not going to pay to live. I can’t afford it.” He noted that his car payments eat up much of his income, making insurance unaffordable.
Latinx drivers are the least likely to be insured among all racial/ethnic groups: a quarter of Latinx drivers do not have health insurance.
The lost right to health insurance caused by Prop 22 has forced many drivers to forgo health insurance: sixteen percent of drivers are uninsured, which is twice as much as the national uninsurance rate. Latinx drivers are most likely to lack insurance, with a quarter of respondents indicating that they are uninsured.
One 25-year-old male, Spanish-speaking driver in Los Angeles, said, “I do not have health insurance, I haven't had it since I worked with Uber. I've worked three years here in the US, the whole time I've been with Uber.” 
The 36-year-old male, Spanish-speaking driver in Los Angeles noted he has been without insurance for a year and a half. He said, “I'm diabetic. I have to prepare my medicine. If I don't pay I have to take on debt with the hospitals. I went to the hospital in Glendale, my bill was $900. I went recently and qualified for emergency medical care. I have gone to the emergency room twice in a year.” 
We found that drivers are most likely to rely on the public system: nearly one-third of respondents get health insurance through Medi-Cal. This finding indicates that many drivers are also struggling financially as Medi-Cal is primarily reserved for people below 138 percent of the poverty line. We also found that half of all respondents receive insurance through Medi-Cal, Medicare, or a partner or spouse, which automatically disqualifies them from receiving health-care stipends. Through these narrow requirements, Prop 22 allows Uber and Lyft to save billions on the health insurance costs that they were required to pay before the legislation was enacted.
Uber and Lyft are failing to provide drivers with adequate safety protections.
In lieu of legally mandated health and safety protections guaranteed to employees, Proposition 22 mandates safety training for app-based workers. Ninety-three percent of our 531 respondents had driven since January 1, 2021, when Proposition 22 took effect. Therefore, Uber and Lyft are required to provide these drivers with safety trainings. However, the companies have failed to provide a training to one in six drivers who responded to our survey. We also found that drivers who identify as multiracial or as a racial category not included in the survey were least likely to have received a training than drivers of other racial groups. This oversight is particularly harmful to women and LGBTQ drivers, who are more likely to experience harassment and violence while working. Without adequate training on how to respond to and report instances of harm, drivers are at risk of danger while on the job.
Policy changes are urgently needed to increase workplace safety and access to health care for rideshare drivers.
Our study reveals that the rollout of protections outlined in Proposition 22 is unpredictable, uneven, and inadequate. Rather than rectifying the problems app-based drivers face, Prop 22 has intensified drivers’ vulnerability to health and safety risks as well as feelings of confusion and disillusionment. This has been particularly acute among Latinx drivers, who are the least likely to know about the health-care stipends and be insured. Rideshare companies and regulatory agencies must take immediate steps to improve access to health care and workplace safety for drivers.
- Companies must remove restrictions on the health-care stipend. The stipend should cover 100 percent of the average monthly premium for a Covered California Bronze plan. Drivers’ total work time, rather than engaged work time, should be counted when calculating stipend qualification.
- Regulatory agencies must improve transparency of stipend rollout by requiring that companies report the percentage of drivers who receive stipends disaggregated by race and ethnicity on a quarterly basis to ensure that everyone who can qualify for a stipend is actually receiving one.
- Uber, Lyft, and other companies need to provide targeted outreach to drivers who are more likely to be uninsured. Information about how to qualify for and receive a health-care stipend should be available in multiple languages and formats.
- Rideshare companies must improve implementation of safety trainings by ensuring that all drivers receive trainings and providing public data on the percentage of drivers who have completed trainings. These trainings should also highlight information about how to report instances of sexual assault or harassment.
While these changes will immediately improve working conditions for millions of drivers, long-term policy action must be taken to create a rideshare industry that benefits everyone.
- California legislators must repeal Prop 22 and reclassify rideshare drivers as employees, restoring all labor rights stripped with its passage. Uber, Lyft, and other gig companies are already funding campaigns for legislation identical to Prop 22 in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and other states nationwide.
- State policymakers and labor advocates must protect crucial rights for drivers and prevent the passage of this legislation.
- Even without the reclassification of drivers as independent contractors through this legislation, current protections are not enough: federal policymakers must ensure just working conditions and a living wage for all gig workers through policies such as the PRO Act.
- Policymakers should establish a single-payer, national health insurance program alongside expanded pathways to citizenship to provide everyone in the US with comprehensive coverage to ensure that workers across all industries have access to free, quality health care.
* Brian Dolber is an Associate Professor of Communication at California State University San Marcos, and an organizer with Rideshare Drivers United. Rideshare Drivers United is an independent association of US rideshare drivers coming together to demand higher pay and workplace rights for all rideshare drivers.
This survey is the first in a series of analyses co-produced by the National Equity Atlas and Rideshare Drivers United examining the impacts of Prop 22 on rideshare drivers. The authors thank Sarah Treuhaft and Michelle Huang of PolicyLink, Carla Tapia of Rideshare Drivers United, and Justin Scoggins of Equity Research Institute.
(1) Proposition 22 requires rideshare and delivery companies to pay a monthly stipend of 82 percent of the average monthly premium for a Covered California Bronze plan (the lowest tier of plans available through the statewide exchange) for drivers averaging more than 25 hours per week in engaged time. Engaged time is defined as time drivers spend from when they get a ride to when they drop a passenger at their destination and does not include time spent in between rides. For drivers averaging at least 15 but less than 25 engaged hours, companies are required to pay a stipend of 41 percent of the average premium. Drivers who work less than 15 hours of engaged time per week do not qualify for a stipend and the same goes for drivers who receive health insurance through Medicare or Medi-Cal, their partner or spouse, or another job.
(2) “Recibí un correo electrónico con la información. En la aplicación también están las horas contabilizadas que necesita para calificar para el cupón. También trabajé en la aplicación durante la pandemia. Estaba saltando por todas partes las plataformas, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash. Con Uber tengo que pasar 20 horas con los pasajeros para calificar, semanalmente. Mintieron a los conductores sobre el seguro médico, porque estoy aquí trabajando y no tengo seguro.”
(3) “Los conductores se sienten engañados. Estas empresas gastaron mucho dinero en propaganda. Controlaban la plataforma. Como los conductores no tienen control. Estos cambios de las empresas se ven lindos hasta que se revela la verdad. Las horas necesarias para calificar son demasiadas para lo que es justo. Nos mintieron. Uber ha estado haciendo demasiados cambios sin imputación de los conductores“
(4) “No tengo seguro de salud, no lo he tenido desde que trabajé con Uber. He trabajado tres años aquí en los Estados Unidos, todo el tiempo que he estado con Uber.”
(5) “Estoy sin seguro y soy diabético. Tengo que preparar mi medicamento. Si no pago tengo que endeudar con los hospitales. Fui al hospital en Glendale, mi factura era de 900 dólares. Fui recientemente y calificé para emergencia médical. He ido a la sala de emergencias dos veces en un año.”