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COVID-19: No Excuse for Tonedeafness

by Roger Lanctot | 4月 30, 2020

There have been multiple media reports that the aftermath of a COVID-19 infection or even its onset can rob a sufferer of the senses of taste and smell, but I have heard no reports of tonedeafness as a symptom of the disease. So I was surprised, yesterday, when Lyft Chief Strategy Officer Raj Kapoor manifested massive tonedeafness on a CDX Virtual Summit.

The event organizer did bill the conversation with Kapoor as a discussion of "how the company is accelerating its innovation efforts, the evolution of the mobile consumer economy, and his experience with COVID and the new COVID registry initiative he launched as a result." That was, indeed, the focus of the session, but it avoided the elephant in the room which was Lyft's announcement, earlier in the day, of a lay off of nearly 1,000 employees, or 17% of its workforce.

Prior to the virtual summit, Lyft reported in a filing that it will terminate 982 employees, which will cost the company $28-$36M. The company also noted it will furlough 288 employees and reduce salaries for exempt employees for a three month period. Lyft's executive team will take a 20%-30% pay cut. Furloughed employees will see a 10% cut.

Lyft, like Uber, has seen its ride hailing business crater by 75% or more. Like other ride hailing operators, Lyft has pivoted to deliveries of essential goods and personnel while also providing free and discounted bike-share passes and e-scooter rides to essential workers in some cities. Kapoor's discussion of Lyft's path to a pivot in the face of COVID-19, while enlightening, seemed cold and clueless considering the dire economic conditions facing newly released employees and the hundreds of thousands of non-employee drivers left to fend for themselves.

There are serious questions as to the long-term viability of Lyft or the nature of a potential recovery. Not surprisingly, this lack of a focus on the welfare of its employees or even the company essentially ruled out the kind of service modifications that Lyft ought to have long ago prioritized - including in-vehicle partitions to protect drivers and passengers.

Kapoor, of all senior executives at Lyft, ought to have an appreciation of the consequences of the current crisis having personally suffered from a COVID-19 infection. But his unique experience and sensitivity has clearly failed to open his eyes to the new reality facing him, Lyft, and future Lyft drivers. Perhaps in addition to being tonedeaf, Kapoor was blinded by his new COVID-19 register initiative. Good luck with that, Raj.

Meanwhile, industries from auto manufacturing to meat packing are coming to grips with what it will take to safely return to work. All indications are that the Federal government will be telling workers they MUST return to work in certain "essential" sectors - putting pressure on employers to make appropriate accommodations.

One indication of the level of interest in worker safety was the Automotive News report that the second edition of auto supplier Lear Corporation's Safe Work Playbook received 18,000 downloads. You can find it here:

The United Auto Workers have already expressed their concerns regarding the implementation of safe working conditions. The UAW is resisting an early May restart. Meatpackers, which have suffered multiple plant-closing COVID-19 outbreaks across the midwest, are now looking to leverage their newfound "essential service" status from the Federal government to force employees back to the production line.

What will it take to get Uber and Lyft drivers back in the driver's seat (and passengers in the back)? It will probably take a more detailed and empathic effort on the part of management to implement safe working conditions. First and foremost, though, both companies and, in fact, all ride hailing operators must distribute and validate the installation of in-vehicle partitions. Hopefully, Raj Kapoor will listen up and see the light.

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