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What to know about applying for gig work during the COVID-19 pandemic

FILE - In this March 31, 2020, file photo, Samuel Diaz, a delivery worker for Amazon Prime, loads his vehicle with groceries from Whole Foods, in Miami, during the COVID-19 pandemic. A leap in U.S. unemployment has thrown a spotlight on one type of work still in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic: Gig work delivering groceries, meals and packages. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

NEW YORK — A leap in U.S. unemployment has thrown a spotlight on one type of work in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic: Gig work delivering groceries, meals and packages.

Some app-based delivery companies have announced hiring sprees to cope with a surge in online shopping. That comes as 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment aid in just the past three weeks.

Many gig jobs in delivery are relatively easy to get, often requiring little more than the ability to carry heavy loads, access to a bike or car and passing a background check. But they also come with the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, which has killed more than 22,000 in the U.S. Most such jobs come with little to no access to benefits like health insurance and paid sick leave.

Here are some things to know about applying for gig jobs during the pandemic.

WHO IS HIRING

DELIVERY

WORKERS?

The biggest hiring companies? Delivery services for groceries and other essentials including San Francisco-based Instacart, Target-owned Shipt, Philadelphia-based startup goPuff and New York-based FreshDirect. Amazon is also adding independent contract drivers through its Flex program.

Restaurant delivery apps are not hiring as quickly, with many of their small business partners struggling under shutdown orders. DoorDash, however, has launched a “priority access program” to help laid off restaurant employees sign up for delivery work. Uber has an internal app that helps its ride-hailing drivers find work for Uber Eats and other jobs. Lyft is partnering with government agencies, nonprofits and health organizations to help its out-of-work drivers find jobs delivering essentials to people in need.

Beyond gig jobs, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Little Caesar’s are also hiring more delivery drivers.

IS GIG WORK PAYING MORE DURING A

PANDEMIC?

Some delivery work has become more lucrative because of a rise in orders and bigger tips. Instacart and Shipt say tips have risen 30% on average in recent weeks. DoorDash says courier earnings have increased by $5 per active hour compared to this time last year.

Most app-based companies, however, are not directly boosting pay for their workers. Instacart and Shipt have offered bonuses that depend on the amount or type of orders completed, but workers who have staged walkouts are demanding hazard pay of $5 per order.

Those considering gig work should do their research. Does the company offer a guaranteed minimum per order? Does that guaranteed minimum include tips? Does the app default to a certain tip percentage?

Payment systems are also subject to change, often without warning for workers.

Some Shipt workers don’t like a new pay structure being tested in some markets that takes into account the time and distance it takes to complete an order and other factors.

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