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An Afghan refugee was shot and killed while driving for Uber in SF. His family is demanding better.

Police car lights. (Alexandru Cuznetov/Dreamstime/TNS)
December 18, 2021

More than anything, Mohammad Dawood Mommand wants his brother, Ahmad Yusufi, to be remembered most as a generous, hard-working man. Yusufi had fled Afghanistan, where he had served as an interpreter for the U.S. military for nine years, in 2017 with his family and had hustled to take care of his loved ones.

“He wasn’t in charge of just his family … he helped the poor … in my country,” Mommand said. “He empathized. He just tried to work hard and help people in his family and his community.”

Ahmad Yusufi, 31, was shot and killed last month in San Francisco while driving for Uber and Lyft. And Uber, his brother says, has done little in the way of providing financial and emotional support for the family.

At about 5 a.m. on Nov. 28, according to a San Francisco police news release provided to SFGATE, San Francisco police responded to a shooting on Potrero Avenue and Cesar Chavez Boulevard. When officers arrived to the scene, they found “a 31-year-old male victim suffering from a gunshot wound.” He was transported to a nearby hospital for “life-threatening injuries” and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Mommand told SFGATE that it was likely an attempted robbery; an unknown individual allegedly broke into Yusufi’s car to try and get his wallet and cellphone.

An Uber spokesperson told SFGATE and other news outlets, including Sacramento’s KXKV, that Yusufi was not driving for the service — he was “offline” — at the time of his death. The spokesperson did confirm that he had driven in San Francisco the night before.

“We’re saddened by this senseless act of violence that took Mr. Yusufi’s life,” a spokesperson told SFGATE in a statement Wednesday. “Our hearts go out to his family during this difficult time.”

Uber did not provide further comment on what, if any, resources it would provide for Yusufi’s family.

The company’s immediate response, Mommand said, has been insufficient. Yusufi was the primary breadwinner for his family — his wife and three children, a 10-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old. By failing to respond to his death privately, he says, the company has neglected to care for one of their more vulnerable employees, someone who has relied on gig services to make a life for his family here in the United States.

“Since it’s happened, no one has helped us,” he says, noting that his only plan for recourse has been reaching out to news stations in hopes of drawing attention to his brother’s death.

“We don’t, we don’t have anyone to back us up,” he said. “… What they want to say, they say.”

Even if he was technically not driving for Uber at the time of his death, Yusufi was in the city for work. Mommand, who also drives for Uber and Lyft, says that his brother drove into San Francisco every week, up to five days a week, to drive for Uber, and was taking a break in between extensive shifts driving when his killing took place.

This is a common occurrence, Mommand says, among Uber and Lyft drivers around Northern California, especially for refugees and immigrants who have recently moved to the States.

“From Sacramento … they go every weekend [to San Francisco], they stay there and sleep in their cars,” he said. “If someone has worked with Lyft or Uber all day, maybe they can make $250 or 300, not more.”

And since a large chunk of that income gets put toward gas, car repairs, company fees and insurance, many drivers are forced to sleep in their cars in order to save some money for their families. A 2019 estimate from CNBC found that one full-time driver in New York City spent nearly $20,000 in a year just on insurance, gas and other fees to stay employed with a service like Uber or Lyft.

“If we get an apartment or [hotel] room to sleep in,” he said, “we cannot save nothing for my family to enjoy.”

Proposition 22, which was ruled unconstitutional in August but still remains in effect, classifies Yusufi as a contractor, not an employee. The legislation replaces a state-funded worker’s compensation program with “an insurance program that gives the driver some compensation for medical expenses and lost income resulting from injuries suffered while the app-based driver is online with the app,” said Catherine Fisk, a professor of employment and labor law at UC Berkeley Law who filed a brief in opposition to the proposition in court.

(In fact, the unconstitutionality of the legislation comes as a result of Proposition 22’s failure to provide “a comprehensive worker’s compensation program,” Fisk said.)

That last part is key: The insurance program would only pay the family if Yusufi was online, which Uber alleged he was not.

But if, as Mommand argues, the lack of good, stable wages and other benefits put his brother in the precarious position that led to his death, then the family may still have the chance to file a tort claim against Uber.

This issue of overworked, underpaid drivers disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable in the Bay Area and in the United States — refugees and immigrants who first come to the United States with limited job prospects, an immense language barrier and the allure of a high-paying income source.

“Most refugees,” he said, “who come from other countries, they start to work Lyft, Uber because they don’t know any other good business.”

Mommand’s last-ditch effort to get recognition from Uber is an open letter, shared Thursday and addressed to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, chief legal officer Tony West and senior vice president of marketing and PR Jill Hazelbaker, in which he lays out his demands: access to his slain brother’s Uber account in order to get more information in the moments leading up to his death, $4 million to help support the family and better pay for all Uber drivers.

The letter closes with a wish. “We trust that you will do the right thing,” his letter reads.

But in the meantime, Mommand is urging more people — especially other refugees and individuals in vulnerable positions — to not drive for Uber or Lyft.

“What happened to me and my brother today,” he said, “tomorrow it could happen for any other driver. They don’t do nothing for us, Lyft and Uber.”

Mommand has set up a GoFundMe for Yusufi’s family; it has raised $50,000 so far.

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(c) 2021 SFGate

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