“BY CLAUDIA IRIZARRY APONTE AND JOSEFA VELASQUEZ for THE CITY”
“This story was originally published on SEP 13, 2021 by THE CITY.
New York City’s roughly 65,000 food delivery workers earn an average of $7.87 an hour before tips — well below New York’s $15 minimum wage, a survey of more than 500 app-based workers found.
More than 85% of respondents said that app-based delivery work was their main and only job, challenging the portrayal of so-called “gig” work by tech companies such as DoorDash and Uber Eats.
Nearly half of the respondents said they’ve been in a crash while doing a delivery.
So far this year, nine couriers have died in the five boroughs, according to delivery worker advocates. They include Federico Zaput Palax, who was killed when his scooter collided with a dump truck in Kensington, Brooklyn, in June, and Noe Amador Licona, who died over the weekend in Queens after being struck by a sedan.
The report detailing the four-month-long survey was dedicated to the nearly two dozen New York City food couriers who’ve died on the job since 2020, many of whom were immigrants in their 20s and 30s.
E-bike thefts and assaults worsened during the pandemic, respondents said, with 54% of the workers surveyed saying that they’d had their wheels stolen — costing them thousands of dollars in a flash. About 30% of those who have experienced bike theft said they were physically assaulted during the robbery.
And 42% of workers found payment unreliable, with money coming late and tips sometimes whittled down or missing, the study found. Even with tips, average pay amounted to $12.21 an hour, the report determined.
Organizers from the worker advocacy group that conducted the survey along with the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations hope that their findings will prompt government action.
“This report validates the workers’ stories, stories that we have heard for many years,” said Hildalyn Colón Hernández, director of policy at the Workers Justice Project.
“It also informs the government about the need for them to regulate these apps,” she added Colón Hernández, whose group represents Los Deliveristas Unidos, a collective of largely immigrant food couriers. “These apps entered the city years ago, but nobody has told them what is their responsibility to customers, with their workers or with their city. We’re doing that now.”
The survey results — first reported by Bloomberg — offers the first substantial look the workings of the burgeoning food app delivery industry.
The pandemic supersized the growth of platforms such as Seamless and Grubhub as restaurants shuttered their doors to in-person dining to comply with regulations aiming to stop the spread of COVID-19.
DoorDash, a San Francisco-based tech company that’s a major player in the food delivery sector, said in a statement that the “claims in this study are misleading and directly contradicted by the facts.”
“Nationally, Dashers earn over $25 per hour they’re on a delivery and Dashers earn $33 per hour they’re on a delivery in Manhattan. Dashers receive 100% of their tips, and on average, Dashers deliver for fewer than four hours per week, fitting delivery around full time jobs, caring for friends and family, going to school, and more,” said Campbell Matthews, a DoorDash spokesperson.
The company had been citing its pay claims for months, prompting derision at a City Hall Park rally Monday afternoon.
Astoria delivery worker Toño Solís asked fellow deliveristas: “Who here actually earns $33 an hour?” The crowd of workers booed.
A representative for Uber Eats, another San Francisco-based tech company, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Plea for ‘Basic Rights’
Following THE CITY’s stories about the Deliveristas last year, the City Council introduced a slate of bills seeking to boost wages and ensure that tips get to workers’ pockets, set limits on their delivery radius, and require that restaurants they deliver from allow them bathroom access.
Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the bill that would fine restaurants and bars that refuse to allow a delivery worker to use the restroom, called the survey results “affirming.”
“A lot of the findings are supporting the need to codify some of these basic rights for a group of individuals that continues to be among our most essential workers,” Rivera told THE CITY.
Rivera is hoping that at least some of the bills in the package will pass “in the next few weeks,” particularly since the Council’s term ends at the end of the year, ushering in a turnover of many members.
“We’re in the fight of our lives to get these bills passed and before the end of this term,” she added. “The report makes it more than clear, this fight does not end with legislation.”
Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office did not specify timing of a vote, stating only that the Council is working with Los Deliveristas Unidos and the de Blasio administration on the legislative package.
DoorDash said that the company is “actively engaged” with workers and policy makers on how to “better support New York City delivery workers.”
Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), who penned a bill that would set minimum per-trip pay standards for delivery workers, said he hopes for a vote this month — but also that other levels of government will have to get involved to address the issues the report highlights.
“The right answer here is for these folks to be recognized as employees,” said Lander, who is running for comptroller. “This is a fine package of bills to make progress given where things stand. But truthfully, either federal or state legislation is required to say what everybody knows, which is that these are workers just like everybody else.”
Looking to Congress
The report highlights the limits of local and even state governments’ ability to regulate the booming, multi-billion dollar tech industry, noted Andrew Wolf, a lecturer specializing in labor and the gig economy at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies.
“It highlights what happens when companies write their own employment rules,” Wolf said.
He likened the burgeoning app-based worker movement to those of factory and sweatshop workers a century ago. There too, bosses attempted to classify workers as contract employees in order to justify low pay, until the federal government intervened.
Efforts in the federal government via the Protect the Right to Organize Act — or PRO Act — have stalled in the divided Senate in recent months, though some provisions are included in the currently pending $3.5 trillion infrastructure package.
Among them: Allowing the National Labor Review Board to issue monetary fines for existing unfair labor practices, and budget boosts for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor.
“With the PRO Act or these efforts in New York and elsewhere, it’s really important to say that the government is who gets to decide the definition of work, not the companies,” Wolf said.
Any progress in Washington would build on worker momentum in California.
Last month, a California’s court delivered a blow to tech companies when it ruled that the industry-backed Proposition 22 approved by voters was unconstitutional and unenforceable.
The ballot initiative, which allowed gig economy companies to continue to recognize the workers as independent contractors, infringed on the power of the state Legislature to regulate compensation for workers’ injuries, the court found.
Similar big tech-backed efforts in New York flopped in June following widespread scrutiny from lawmakers, union leaders and labor experts.
The new report found that the workforce propping up app-based food delivery in the five boroughs are young immigrants, like Sergio Ajche, a Guatemalan food delivery worker from Brooklyn and one of the leaders of the Deliveristas.
“This study gives our fight more strength, because it’s now clear and precise that the city has to do something so that we workers have better conditions, and show to the world that New York is a city where there is respect and dignity for all classes of workers,” Ajche, 38, said at City Hall in his native Spanish.
“Compañeros, today feel proud that everything we’ve been fighting for is being backed up by a study,” Ajche said.
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