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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Gig economy companies have largely dodged the costs of worker benefits and protections — but now, amid the coronavirus crisis, find themselves struggling to keep both customers and workers on board.

What’s happening: They're juggling mismatched supply and demand, and asked to alleviate everyone's financial strains.

Driving the news: Yesterday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told investors that his firm's ride-hailing business has dropped 60-70% in Seattle so far this year compared with the same period of 2019.

  • Earlier this month, Uber said it will compensate drivers for up to 14 days if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or asked to self-isolate or quarantine — since they don’t have paid time off as independent contractors.
  • Lyft, Instacart, and others are providing similar compensation.

This still leaves a lot of drivers worried and frustrated. They have to keep working to generate income — and fulfill consumer demand — despite the risk of getting infected by passengers.

Other firms are attempting similar balancing acts. Food delivery companies are seeing a surge in demand as people stay home and restaurants are forced to serve takeout only.

  • Drivers face the same health and financial risks.
  • Some companies are waiving certain restaurant fees, though they’re mostly focused on new eatery signups.

The clearest tension between the two sides of the marketplace is playing out at Airbnb: Travelers want refunds for their canceled reservations, but hosts want to keep the money, especially if it’s a significant source of their income.

The bottom line: These companies have spent years claiming that they are simply neutral marketplaces and that their workers and hosts are “entrepreneurs” — but leaving those people with all financial responsibility is backfiring now.

  • The firms are asking the federal government to relieve drivers, restaurants, and hosts’ economic strain.
  • Even if Uncle Sam does step in, the companies are already facing public pressure to help now.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

5 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.

6 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

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