NYC passes bills to improve conditions of app-based delivery workers

The New York City Council passed bills today that will set minimum pay and improve working conditions for gig workers making deliveries for apps like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats. More specifically, the bills allow delivery workers to use restaurant bathrooms, limit how far they can be asked to deliver, set minimum payments per trip and ensure that tips get to workers. This legislation is the first of its kind in any major U.S. city, setting a precedent for how government intervention can influence the relationship between food delivery companies and their many, many thousands of contractors.

This package of bills was written with input from Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU), a collective of mostly immigrant app delivery workers that was born out of the Workers Justice Project. The group has been protesting for better working conditions throughout the pandemic, and, in April, they publicly joined forces with SEIU Local 32BJ, NYC’s largest union of service workers.

“The bitter truth is that many food delivery workers can work 12 hours a day in the cold or rain for multiple food service apps and still not make enough to feed their own families,” the LDU website reads.

An LDU organizer told VICE that gig workers can be financially incentivized to work during rain and snow storms, so dangerous weather can be an opportunity to make more money. Earlier this month, as Hurricane Ida pummeled New York City and led to 13 deaths, app delivery workers were still bringing people food, wading through feet of flooding to complete an order. DoorDash suspended service in Manhattan, and Grubhub suspended service in certain parts of New York City. But many gig workers continued to seek bonuses and incentives where they could, even if it meant putting themselves in physical danger.

The conditions of Hurricane Ida illuminated a truth that has been obvious for years: contractors for delivery apps struggle to make a living wage, which incentivizes them to put themselves in danger for extra cash. At the same time, companies like DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub still aren’t making money, even after doing more business than ever in the pandemic.

A report from the LDU surveyed more than 500 app-based couriers in NYC and found that, including tips, the average hourly net pay was around $12.21, which falls below New York City’s $15 minimum wage. On top of that, delivery workers are expected to pay for their own transportation, which in New York City, is often via e-bike. Delivery workers are also especially vulnerable to theft. The report also found that 49% of respondents had been in an accident or crash while making a delivery, and 75% of those people said that they paid for medical care with their own funds. However, DoorDash told TechCrunch that Dashers in Manhattan earn $33 per hour.

“We recognize the unique challenges facing delivery workers in New York City and share the goal of identifying policies that will help Dashers and workers like them. This is why last year, we announced an industry-leading set of initiatives to improve Dasher safety, strengthen earnings, and expand access to restrooms. We will continue to work with all stakeholders, including the City Council, to identify ways to support all delivery workers in New York City without unintended consequences,” a DoorDash spokesperson said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

DoorDash also indicated some concerns with the bills, saying that the bathroom access bill doesn’t actually require restaurants to allow bathroom access; instead, companies like DoorDash have to include provisions in their contracts with restaurants that require them to allow delivery workers to use their bathrooms.

Grubhub also expressed support for the bills. The company told TechCrunch in a statement: “These bills are common sense steps to support the delivery workers who work hard every day for New York’s restaurants and residents. Ensuring they receive a living wage and have access to restrooms isn’t just a good idea — it’s the right thing to do.”

Gig workers for other apps experience similar issues to app delivery couriers. Earlier this week, the Gig Workers Collective — which represents about 13,000 Instacart contractors — urged customers to delete the app until Instacart meets five demands to increase pay and make conditions better for workers. Because workers for these apps are contractors, rather than employees, they have fewer protections, like the guarantee of earning a minimum hourly wage. Instacart has even subsidized workers’ wages with their tips in the past.

For about 80,000 delivery workers in New York City, today’s legislation marks a positive change. But it remains unclear how or if tech companies will be held responsible for paying these minimum wages and guaranteeing that workers’ needs are met.