September 23 was hailed as a “momentous” day for New York City’s 65,000 app-based delivery workers, as months of grassroots organizing led to the City Council passing a six-bill package that grants labor protections to couriers for services like DoorDash, Grubhub-Seamless, Uber Eats, and Relay.
It’s the first time a major U.S. city has regulated the multibillion-dollar delivery apps, intending to curb some of the worst abuses faced by couriers, most of whom are immigrants. The new laws, passed by a 40-3 vote, require the apps’ delivery contracts with the restaurants to state explicitly that their bathroom facilities are available to delivery workers. The apps also must show workers how far they’ll have to travel before they accept an order, let couriers turn down long trips without being penalized, and inform workers of how much they’ll earn for each delivery.
The apps must set a minimum per-trip payment, pay workers weekly, and provide payment options that don’t require a bank account and don’t charge fees. Apps will have to notify couriers if a customer has removed or altered a tip, and inform customers how much of their tip goes to the delivery worker.
The bills also bar companies from charging workers for their required delivery bags, which generally cost $60 to $120, according to Hidalyn Colón Hernández, director of policy and strategic partnerships at the Workers’ Justice Project.
While these laws are an accomplishment, they are not the end of the line. The app-based delivery system’s basic structure remains exploitative.
“What we did was establish a floor, a basic framework of working conditions in the industry,” Colón Hernández said on The Indypendent News Hour in early October. The Workers’ Justice Project helped found Los Deliveristas Unidos, one of a number of groups of delivery workers that banded together as pandemic-related lockdowns and restaurant closures worsened conditions on the job. Many had signed up with delivery apps after losing other jobs at the pandemic’s onset. They held numerous demonstrations, including hundreds riding their electric bikes to City Hall.
“They didn’t have [personal protective equipment], they were not able to use the restroom, and many of them suffered the issue of not getting pay or tips. That brought up a movement,” Colón Hernández said.
Many deliveristas work 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. The apps frequently cut off their access if they reject deliveries or don’t move fast enough to meet the quotas imposed by the algorithm. An average round trip is three to six miles, Colón Hernández said.
According to a report published in September by Cornell University in partnership with Los Deliveristas Unidos, delivery workers make an average of $7.87 an hour in base pay, and $12.40 when tips are included. Because they are defined as independent contractors, the app companies don’t have to pay them the city’s $15 minimum wage, and they have to cover their own expenses such as buying and maintaining an electric bike.
Base pay per trip is currently $1 to $2.50 before tips, Colón Hernández said. She called the legislation “a first step toward justice.” Deliveristas still lack the basic rights that full-time employees have. They are not eligible for workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits — crucial on a job where they ride bikes in traffic and bad weather. Nearly half of respondents to the Cornell survey said they had been in a crash or an accident. They also are often victims of bike theft and assaults.
At least 16 have been killed on the job in the past two years. Most recently, Babacar Dia, 44, a father of four from Senegal, who was killed in a hit-and-run in East New York on Sept. 26.
Colón Hernández suggests that app users can help deliveristas in small ways, such as asking them to check if they actually received the tip you sent.
“They know [customers] tip, but this money is not showing up in their accounts,” she says.
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