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New York City to pass bill boosting pay and working conditions for food delivery drivers

September 23, 2021, 7:40 PM UTC

New York City is slated to approve a package of bills aimed at improving pay and working conditions for food-delivery employees, including for Grubhub, DoorDash, and UberEats.

The sweeping measures would require restaurant access to bathrooms, set a minimum pay per trip and a guarantee for full tips, and allow the workers to set limits on their routes. The council is posed to vote on the measures on Thursday.

In New York City, an estimated 65,000 food delivery drivers were deemed essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. These workers, classified as independent contractors, don’t have access to benefits such as minimum wage or overtime, which prompted a push from worker advocates to bolster protections over the last year.  

“Delivery workers have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic risking their lives, their livelihoods,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, a prime sponsor of the bills. “They have almost singlehandedly sustained our restaurant industry. We all saw those photos of waist-deep water that they were wading through to bring people their food and medication.”

The move comes as gig companies fight across the U.S. to defend their business models that rely on contractors. These app-based companies have endorsed offering basic benefits in exchange for the flexibility of remaining contractors, but not the full rights of an employee. 

This dynamic played out in California with a $220 million voter initiative, Proposition 22, that gave drivers access to certain benefits such as a health care stipend and a minimum wage floor. The gig companies are backing a similar effort in Massachusetts. 

“Many of them, not all, do not treat them with the respect these workers deserve,” Rivera said of the companies, adding that median hourly pay is often less than minimum wage. “This victory goes to all the workers out there.”

Common sense

DoorDash, Grubhub and UberEats sued to block a previous bill passed by the New York City Council that would cap delivery fees. It appears that Thursday’s new bills have some support from at least some of the delivery companies, however, including from Grubhub and DoorDash. Uber didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“These bills are common-sense steps to support the delivery workers who work hard every day for New York’s restaurants and residents,” according to a statement from Grant Klinzman, a Grubhub spokesperson. “Ensuring they receive a living wage and have access to restrooms isn’t just a good idea—it’s the right thing to do.”

Workers said they planned to rally outside of City Hall on Thursday in support of the bills, similar to other protests held this year led by a grassroots advocacy group Los Deliveristas, which have advocated for better working conditions for app-based delivery drivers. 

“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,” said DoorDash spokesperson Campbell Millum. “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.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed many unemployed New Yorkers to turn to app-based delivery services, which surged in popularity as restaurants closed throughout the city. A study from Cornell University said that 75% of delivery workers joined the industry because they lost work during the pandemic.

After accounting for expenses, the median hourly wage for delivery workers in New York City is $7.94, excluding tips, according to a study conducted by the Worker’s Justice Project in partnership with Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The minimum wage in New York is $15 an hour for employees. Data from the study also show that 65% of the delivery workers surveyed were denied access to a restaurant bathroom. 

“We feel we’re on solid legal ground,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the large, multi-billion dollar corporations that were making a lot of money in New York City tried to stop this, but in the face of that my hope is that other cities will take action and join New York City in enacting protections for delivery workers.”

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