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New York City delivery workers win rights to better tips, bathrooms and more

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<span>Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP</span>
Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

New York City lawmakers have passed a historic package of bills to improve labor conditions for gig economy and food delivery workers.

The first of its kind legislation, which targets app-based delivery companies such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Doordash, will set minimum pay, allow workers to keep more of their tips, and limit how far workers can be asked to travel for deliveries. It will also guarantee workers access to bathrooms – an issue that has long plagued people in the gig economy and has been exacerbated by Covid-19 restrictions.

City council speaker Corey Johnson, speaking in a press conference following the vote on Thursday, said the package would give workers the “rights they deserve” and inspire future legislation.

Related: ‘I don’t like being treated like crap’: gig workers aim to retool a system they say is rigged

“New York will now be the first city in the country to make sure delivery workers are not exploited – to make sure people are treated with dignity and respect, that they get their wages, and that they are not exploited by these multibillion dollar corporations,” he said.

The legislation was written in collaboration with Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU), a collective of mostly-immigrant app delivery workers that have long pushed for living wages, bathroom access, and the right to organize.

It comes as Covid-19 has increased consumer reliance on delivery services, causing the sector to grow exponentially in the past year. Uber Eats, the food delivery segment of the ride-hailing company Uber, grew by 190% in 2020, adding 36,000 couriers in New York City alone.

But the growing army of workers found themselves on the front lines of a pandemic with no health benefits and little job security. Many complain they are unable to access bathrooms and often cannot see or access the tips that customers add to orders.

Excluding tips, the median hourly wage for delivery workers in New York City was $7.94 in 2020 according to a study from the Worker’s Justice Project. The hourly net pay when including tips was still below New York’s $15 minimum wage, at an average of $12.21.

A spokesman from Grubhub said the company supported the bills, calling them “common-sense steps to support the delivery workers who work hard every day for New York’s restaurants and residents”.

“Ensuring they receive a living wage and have access to restrooms isn’t just a good idea – it’s the right thing to do,” he said. DoorDash has also expressed support of the legislation.

Cities are increasingly cracking down on the gig economy. Chicago sued food delivery apps in August for misleading consumers, restaurants, and workers – including “using consumer tips to pay itself rather than its drivers”. In June, San Francisco voted to cap delivery app fees charged to restaurants at 15%.

But some of the companies targeted by these efforts are also fighting back. California in 2020 passed a law entitling drivers to benefits and better pay, which industry giants such as Uber quickly countered with their own bill exempting themselves from the legislation. Uber now plans to appeal after that bill, Prop 22, was ruled unconstitutional in August.

Workers themselves are also making their own efforts, demanding the benefits afforded to full-time employees including better pay and the right to organize.

Starting this week, contractors at Instacart have called on customers to boycott the app as they demand better working conditions. In June, Uber and Lyft drivers participated in a day-long strike to demand the right to organize.

Worker advocates say the New York bills are a good start but do not address some broader concerns about the gig economy in the US, and that more comprehensive legislation on a national scale is needed.

“This is an excellent step in the right direction, but I am concerned that a piecemeal approach to addressing these serious issues is going to take the wind out of the movement towards basic employment rights for these workers,” said Veena Dubal, a professor of employment law at University of California, Hastings.

She added that delivery workers are at a very high risk of injury and should be entitled to workers’ compensation and healthcare when they are hurt on the job.

“This is better than nothing in the short term, but lawmakers should not think by passing these bills they are doing enough,” she said.

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