‘We deserve better’: New York’s ‘deliveristas’ working through deadly floods demand workplace protections

·5 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Video of a food delivery worker, carrying a takeout bag while wading through knee-deep water in Brooklyn, has been viewed at least 11 million times since it was posted on 1 September while New York City flooded from the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

Footage of the worker trudging with his bike through the Williamsburg neighborhood was shared widely across social media, including by New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“Please do not be the person who orders delivery during a flash flood that the [National Weather Service] has deemed a dangerous and life-threatening situation. It puts vulnerable people at risk,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “If it’s too dangerous for you, it’s too dangerous for them.”

The footage has revived scrutiny into app-based delivery services and put a spotlight on organising efforts among delivery workers – or deliveristas – who have demanded stronger workplace protections during the Covid-19 crisis and during severe weather while earning unpredictable wages.

Workers with Los Deliversitas Unidos are demanding the companies they serve – like GrubHub, DoorDash, UberEats and similar app-based services – help protect them from robberies, wage theft, and health and safety hazards on the job.

They also have demanded consistent pay and living wages to keep up with high costs of living and the right to use bathrooms – and to sit and rest – at the restaurants they’re serving, which they say are routinely denied.

“Our labor is dangerous, undervalued and underpaid,” according to a delivery worker named Carlos, through a statement from The Workers Justice Project, which is helping low-wage immigrant workers organise around stronger workplace protections.

“We want these apps like [GrubHub and DoorDash] to pay us more,” he added. “I had to pick up food from two different restaurants and had to deliver them to two different customers for $7. We deserve better.”

Delivery workers are effectively independent contractors; they do not receive healthcare coverage, paid time off, worker’s compensation for injuries on the job or similar benefits. They also do not receive support for repairs to their delivery vehicles – after floods, workers have reported damaged batteries on their electric bicycles, which have become increasingly necessary to make enough deliveries in a day to make ends meet.

Workers have also urged state and local lawmakers to get involved by requiring app-based delivery companies to pay hourly base wages.

The footage shared by freelance photographer Johnny Miller on his @UnequalScenes Twitter account was also shared by several New York officials.

“This should make us all angry,” said state assemblywoman Catalina Cruz. “You know who delivers the food. You knew it was unsafe for anyone [and] still ordered [because] you don’t care. [Because] our people will always come second to your needs. [Because] you’re selfish [and] our lives will always be expendable.”

“Deliveristas putting their lives at risk to deliver food in a tropical storm are the consequences of an unregulated gig economy,” said former congressional candidate Samelys López. “It’s inhumane.”

Through the pandemic and deadly floods, workers are on “the frontlines doing what we love – keeping New Yorkers fed and safe,” according to Los Deliveristas Unidos member Antonio. “For this reason, we won’t stop fighting until this city values our labor.”

Delivery workers told New York’s The City that app algorithms assign workers more than one delivery per restaurant order during peak times of demand, which is obscured to workers until they get to the restaurant.

Workers also risk getting locked out of the apps, unable to access orders and make deliveries, if they object to the delivery distance or number of trips, according to The City.

Grubhub pays workers a base wage of $2 per delivery, which increases depending on demand, which incentivises workers to work during severe weather, on the promise that they will make higher wages while braving life-threatening conditions, according to Los Deliveristas Unidos.

While subways were inundated with flooding water and roads became impassable with water reaching the tops of cars in some neighbourhoods, demand for deliveries increased on Wednesday night, and base wages spiked to as much as $7 per delivery, The City reported.

“We usually get $3 to $5 from the DoorDash delivery app per order, plus around $3 or $4 in tip from the clients,” delivery worker Juvenal Gayosso told Curbed. “Sometimes the app gives us $2 extra per delivery when the weather’s bad, but not yesterday.”

Workers reported not earning any severe-weather incentives from GrubHub on Wednesday, though some were offered an additional $3.50 per delivery by DoorDash and $2 per delivery from Relay, according to Los Deliveristas Unidos.

In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for GrubHub said the company evaluates “any local closures on a case-by-case basis” and makes “decisions based on what we hear on the ground from local officials, restaurant partners and drivers.”

“We will not hesitate to temporarily suspend operations if that is determined to be the safest course of action,” the spokesperson said. “This was the case in New York earlier this week and we paused locations as needed based on local conditions.”

Workers “are always able to choose to accept or decline orders, and those who choose not to drive or reject an order during these conditions are not penalised,” according to the spokesperson.

Grubhub did not say when exactly service was paused in some neighbourhoods but said the company “dynamically looked neighborhood by neighborhood to assess if we needed to pause drivers from being on the road because of hyperlocal conditions.”

A spokesperson for DoorDash told The Independent that “merchants can easily adjust their operations, including pausing or slowing down orders, within their merchant portal” and that delivery workers are “always free to decline any order.” The company added “reached out to merchants and Dashers in New York City and will continue to support them in any way we can,” the spokesperson said.

The company said it paused service in impacted areas; if deliveries were not paused, delivery may have received communications regarding peak pay, which can vary based on a number of factors.”

“Peak pay is always on top of what a Dasher would earn in base pay plus [100 per cent] of the customer tip, and serves to help ensure Dashers have meaningful earnings if they choose to be online,” according to DoorDash.

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