Above Photo: Elvert Barnes
New York City’s 65,000+ food delivery workers were celebrated as essential workers throughout the pandemic. But according to a damning new study, they aren’t actually being treated that way—instead, they routinely earn low wages well below New York’s minimum wage, lack basic labor and employment protections, and face dangerous working conditions on the streets of NYC.
The report released this week, which was conducted by advocacy group Worker’s Justice Project in partnership with Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, is a four-month-long survey (December 2020-April 2021) of 500 app-based workers throughout the five boroughs, many of whom work for the likes of Grubhub, Doordash and UberEats.
The report is dedicated to the memory of 16 delivery workers who have died on the job over the last two years, including at least nine in 2021 so far.
Among their findings was that excluding tips—which are a “highly unstable” but essential forms of income for them—the median hourly wage for delivery workers in New York City is $7.94. Even including tips, the hourly net pay is $12.21, below NY’s $15 minimum wage. In addition, about 42% of respondents said they experienced non-paying or underpayment of tips, late payments or non-payments of an entire week’s earnings.
Two-thirds of respondents said they regularly work six days a week, and 85% this was their main and only job, in contrast to the statements of various food app companies who claim workers often have multiple gigs at a time.
“Platform companies have anchored their business model on the premise that the workers they engage are independent contractors, thereby shifting the costs of operations and safety net protections to the workers and ultimately to the broader society,” the study states. “Failure to regulate these applications is leaving workers across the platform economy without basic protections, including occupational safety and health protections that have become critical in the face of the pandemic.”
As for safety, about half the respondents said they have been involved in a crash or accident while out on a delivery, and 75% of them said they paid for medical care with their own personal funds. On top of that, over half of respondents said they have experienced bike theft (an electric bike ranges from $1,300-$2,500), and about 30% said they were physically assaulted during such robberies.
The Verge has a major story this week following some delivery app workers as they traverse a system that seems to devalue workers even as the companies consolidate and get richer.
“Workers get paid when they accept and complete a delivery, and a gamelike system of rewards and penalties keeps them moving: high scores for being on time, low scores and fewer orders for tardiness, and so on,” they write. “[Delivery worker Anthony Chavez] and others call it the patrón fantasma, the phantom boss — always watching and quick to punish you for being late but nowhere to be found when you need $10 to fix your bike or when you get doored and have to go to the hospital.”
A spokeswoman for Doordash touted their initiatives to support “Dashers”—including free and discounted bike safety gear and access to e-bikes—and criticized the study. Further, the spokeswoman told Gothamist, “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.”
A spokesperson for Grubhub said that worker safety was their priority: “Nobody should have to go to work worried about their safety. Delivery workers have supported millions of New Yorkers for decades and the public and private sectors must do more to ensure their safety. We stand ready to work with the City to help do our part.”
Grubhub added that they support the package of bills introduced this summer by NYC lawmakers to try to address some of the harsh conditions faced by this workforce, which would boost wages, set limits on delivery radius, and give workers restroom access inside the establishments for which they’re delivering food.
In July, the City Council voted to extend a cap that was imposed on third-party delivery apps during the pandemic of 15% for deliveries and 5% for other services, such as marketing. The cap had been set to expire in August, and would have allowed apps to charge commission as high as 30-35% combined, depending on services.
That cap was supported by Los Deliveristas Unidos, a collective of mostly immigrant food couriers fighting for labor rights. That group is part of the Worker’s Justice Project, and has been holding rallies all year and pushing lawmakers to grant their demands for better working conditions.
#Deliverista’s groundbreaking report —#EssentialButUnprotected validates the voices of more than 65,000 NYC’s app-based delivery workers, who are building a movement as #LosDeliveristasUnidos to win basic protection in the gig economy. Full report here 👉🏾 https://t.co/gzwC8idctc pic.twitter.com/CJi6CIAIVw
— Workers Justice ✊🏾 (@workersjusticep) September 15, 2021
Last week, Grubhub, DoorDash, and UberEats announced a lawsuit challenging those permanent fee cap on delivery services, arguing “the fee cap limits the ability of delivery services to share the cost of delivery with restaurants, leaving consumers, drivers and delivery apps with the tab.”
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said that the lawsuit was an example of billion-dollar corporations using “every weapon in their war chest” to take advantage of NYC restaurants
“These big third-party delivery companies use their money and market domination to increase fees on small businesses,” he said. “The Court should reject their abhorrent attempts to overturn this law so they can keep delivery fees outrageously high with ploy tactics that have been recognized by the City Council and the Mayor as harmful to local businesses.”