New York laws protecting delivery workers could be watershed, say advocates

by Avi Asher-Schapiro | @AASchapiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 24 September 2021 16:34 GMT

A food delivery rider rides a bicycle through the rain during a delivery in midtown Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 23, 2021. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

Image Caption and Rights Information

Package of protections include minimum pay, tip transparency and bathroom access for app-based delivery workers

* City passes measures protecting food app delivery workers

* Move follows campaign by gig workers and labor groups

* Industry split over measures, some fear business impact

By Avi Asher-Schapiro

Sept 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Labor protections passed in New York City to boost the rights of delivery workers for meal ordering apps could set a precedent for similar legislation elsewhere in the United States, supporters of the measures said.

Mayor Bill De Blasio has indicated he will sign into law the bills passed by councillors on Thursday following a campaign by labor rights groups and workers who deliver meals and other goods ordered on apps such as Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub. "This package of bills is historic ... We're hoping other cities will look to us for inspiration," said councilwoman Carlina Rivera, author of one of the measures - a requirement for restaurants to let workers use their bathrooms.

"This is a billion-dollar industry ... They're clearly trying to protect their profits, but it can't be on the backs of these workers," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Other provisions in the package establish a minimum pay floor, mandate transparency over how tips are calculated and limit the distance the city's estimated 65,000 delivery workers can be asked to travel.

"The delivery workers are witnessing for the first time that their voices are being heard," said Ligia Guallpa, director of the Workers Justice Project, a labor rights group that partnered with delivery drivers to demand legislative action.

"This city is acknowledging that these are essential frontline workers ... This is the beginning of something bigger," she told a rally after the bills were passed overwhelmingly by councillors.

As the delivery sector boomed during COVID-19 lockdowns, workers complained of increasingly harsh conditions.

A study released in September by New York labor groups and the Worker Institute at Cornell University found app-based delivery workers in the city were on average paid well below the $15 minimum hourly wage.

Delivery firms rejected the findings, with the DoorDash platform saying its workers make up to $33 an hour when working in Manhattan in New York City.

ESSENTIAL WORKERS

Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats - the biggest players in the delivery industry in the United States - filed suit against New York City earlier in the month to block regulations that would limit the fees they can take on deliveries.

But Grubhub said in an emailed statement it supported the measures passed on Thursday.

A DoorDash spokesperson said the company shared "the goal of identifying policies that will help (workers)", but expressed reservations that the legislation could limit the app's delivery range, and have other unintended consequences.

Uber Eats did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The companies do not consider the delivery workers as employees, and they are not currently entitled to the same guarantees - such as minimum wage and workplace injury protection - that regular staff members receive.

Andrew Wolf, a co-author of the Cornell study, said New York City's effort to bring delivery workers' rights more in line with other workers could give a boost to similar initiatives in cities such as Philadelphia, Seattle and Boston.

"The city let workers take the lead, and listened to their top concerns: safety, pay, and bathrooms," he said.

In Seattle, Alex Clardy - a legislative assistant to city councilwoman Lisa Herbold - said a similar package of proposals that she is pushing could be enacted early next year.

"There's been a slow federal response to how technology changes work," Clardy said, adding that local governments "need to trailblaze here".

Related stories:

Social entrepreneurs fight to make gig work fairer, greener

California governor signs legislation to protect warehouse workers

Amazon's palm print recognition raises concern among by U.S. senators

(Reporting by Avi Asher-Schapiro @AASchapiro in Los Angeles; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.