Home Tech Updates Big tech’s abortion travel policies do nothing for its contractor workforce

Big tech’s abortion travel policies do nothing for its contractor workforce

by Patricia R. Mills

Last week, the Supreme Court’s ruling transformed many states where abortion access was prohibitively difficult to those where it is now de facto illegal. Congressional Democrats squandered nearly 50 years of opportunities to strengthen the right to bodily autonomy. Large companies have been attempting to perform some triage in the wake of a post-Roe nation. Still, their solutions, among tech firms, often exclude most of their workforces.

Alphabet, Meta, Amazon, Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have all recently announced or reiterated policies for employees that would cover or offset the cost of traveling out of state to seek medical services, including abortions. While, as Vox’s Emily Stewart rightly points out, no one should have to choose between a forced pregnancy or disclosing an abortion to their employer’s H.R. department, the situation is significantly grimmer for the hordes of contractors who keep these same businesses afloat, and have not been afforded the same options.

What’s at stake here is a massive number of workers. In many cases, these companies have more than the number of full-timers on the payroll. The most recent estimate, in 2020, for content moderators on Facebook was 15,000 — a number that likely does not encompass moderators on Meta’s other social platforms and almost certainly excludes contingent workers at the company’s many offices and data centers. (Its full-time staff, meanwhile, are barred from discussing abortion-related issues at work.)

Big tech's abortion travel policies do nothing for its contractor workforce

Amazon has boasted about creating 158,000 sub-contracted roles for its network of delivery service providers. Once again, this does not include drivers contracted through its internal Amazon Flex program, data center, and office support workers or those handling maintenance at the company’s over 1,100 warehouses. The number of temporary workers, vendors, or contractors (TVCs in the company terminology) is not publicly reported but is estimated at around 150,000. The alphabet was the subject of critical reporting in 2018, where it was revealed that most giant tech workers were not employees.

The balance is even more skewed for “gig” companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, against its approximately 30,000 employees, estimates on the number of contractor drivers working for Uber range from 3.9 million to five million, with about a million operating in the U.S. The most-cited claim is that Lyft has around 1.4 million drivers across the U.S. and Toronto — though the source of that figure is nearly five years old and is likely to be much larger now. DoorDash’s 6,000 employees are dwarfed by a claimed fleet of two million couriers.

It’s also highly likely (though at this time still unclear) these policies will be inapplicable to part-time employees since these travel reimbursements appear to be administered through employer-provided healthcare, which part-time workers typically do not qualify for. For this reason, it’s also unclear if these companies had any input into creating these reimbursement programs or if the credit belongs to their respective health insurance providers. Meta, Amazon, Alphabet, and Uber did not respond to requests for comment, while Lyft and DoorDash declined to answer specific questions and passed along existing statements to the press.

A Meta spokesperson told Engadget, “We intend to offer travel expense reimbursements, to the extent permitted by law, for employees who need them to access out-of-state health care and reproductive services. We are in the process of assessing how best to do so given the legal complexities involved.”

“It’s paramount that all DoorDash employees and their dependents covered on our health plans have equitable, timely access to safe healthcare,” a spokesperson told Engadget. “DoorDash will cover certain travel-related expenses for employees who face new barriers to access and need to travel out of state for abortion-related care.”

“Lyft’s U.S. medical benefits plan includes coverage for elective abortion and reimbursement for travel costs if an employee must travel more than 100 miles for an in-network provider,” Kristin Sverchek, Lyft President of Business Affairs, wrote in a blog post published June 24. When asked if the company is doing anything for its fleet of drivers, a spokesperson pointed to a section of the same blog post where Sverchek wrote that the company is “partnering with [Planned Parenthood] to pilot a Women’s Transportation Access program.” Lyft would not comment on who the program would cover, what access it would provide, what funding it had, where it would operate, or when it is projected to launch. No recent mentions of Lyft or the phrase “Women’s Transportation Access” appear anywhere in Planned Parenthood’s press releases, and the organization did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

The hollowness of these gestures towards abortion access has not been lost on some workers. The Alphabet Workers Union, a sub-group of the Communications Workers of America, issued a statement yesterday criticizing their namesake company for failing to extend these new policies to contingent workers. “Google announced that full-time employees would have access to relocation services following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. What this fails to address is the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Alphabet temps, vendors, and contract workers, who are more likely to be living in states with restricted abortion access, and more likely to be workers of color,” Parul Koul, an AWU member and Google software engineer wrote.

What has been echoed widely over the past several decades of the Republican project to restrict abortion access is that new barriers — closing down clinics, enacting the gestational bans,s and now the overturning — will not stop abortions from being carried out; theyy merely make safe abortions harder to obtain. Current projections suggest the number of abortions will only drop around 14 percent. Certainly, the burden of forced pregnancy will overwhelmingly fall on those at an economic disadvantage: those without stable work, good pay, employer-sponsored healthcare, or the time and savings to take off from work to seek an out-of-state abortion. In many cases, the situation described here overlaps precisely with the circumstances of contractors these new reimbursement policies implicitly excluded. It complicates these companies in the two-tiered access Republicans have largely succeeded in making a reality. Tech companies cannot promise to build the future while vast workforces are trapped in 1972.

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