You Can Only Get Some of Your Rights Delivered

While New York City has passed a new bill improving some conditions for delivery workers, more firm measures need to be taken to protect and support these workers.

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We live in a world where we can open an app on our phones and have food from our favorite restaurants delivered to us without leaving our houses. Even with this magic convenience, we do not hold back on our dissatisfaction. Many times, I have complained about the food arriving late, not getting the sauce I wanted, or the food getting cold, disregarding the difficulties that delivery workers have to endure to provide me and countless others with cheap and fast delivery. Delivery workers in New York receive much lower wages than other workers and often face robbery or assault on the job. While New York City has passed six new bills to improve conditions for delivery workers, more needs to be done to ensure fair wages, equality, and improved conditions for these workers.

Sixty-five thousand delivery workers work in New York City, and many are immigrants or part of marginalized communities. These delivery workers continue to face low wages even as food delivery app companies profit, made evident by the increase in food delivery app revenue and users in the U.S. from $22 billion and 95 million users in 2019 to $26.5 billion and 111 million in 2020. New York City delivery workers earn an average of $7.87 an hour before tips and $12.21 an hour with tips, which is still well below the minimum wage of $15 per hour. With this low wage, it is almost impossible for delivery workers to live comfortably in New York City, where the average overall costs of living and housing are 1.87 times and 2.94 times, respectively, the national index.

While delivery workers face low wages, food delivery apps continue to make false claims about the rate of pay, leading to misinformation among consumers and the circulation of inaccurate data that make it more difficult to assess the conditions that delivery workers face. Approximately 42 percent of delivery workers reported unreliable or late payment, and many face robbery or assault on the job and do not receive worker benefits. About half of all delivery workers crash on the job and then must pay for their own medical care. Many are even restricted from using bathrooms at the restaurants they deliver for.

In response, New York City passed a set of six bills to improve some of the conditions for delivery workers and put certain restrictions on food delivery apps. One bill in this set is Int 2296-2021, which prevents food delivery apps from charging workers an additional fee to receive their payment. Another is Int 2399-2021, which allows delivery workers to set parameters on the distance they travel for delivery. Int 2298-2021 requires restaurants to make their bathroom facilities available to delivery workers, and Int 1846-2020 requires food delivery apps to disclose their gratuity policies to consumers. While the new set of bills improves certain conditions for delivery workers, more steps need to be taken to truly grant delivery workers equal rights.

Under the new bills, delivery workers are still classified as independent contractors, preventing them from receiving workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits. Especially during the pandemic, delivery workers are essential to our society and should be given the same minimum wage as others. Many are immigrants with little to no generational wealth and come from marginalized communities. Preventing them from receiving fair wages and benefits further disenfranchises them in a system already designed to put them down.

The bills can be improved to allow delivery workers to receive the same standard minimum wage as other workers. With the high rate of assault and robbery that delivery workers face, the city must establish bills to give delivery workers compensation and medical benefits so they do not have to pay for their own medical care when harmed on the job. The bills must be more strict on food delivery apps and require them to disclose their payment and gratuity policies to consumers so that if delivery fees increase, consumers understand where the fees are going and how they help support the workers.

New York City is a delivery hub of the world. We must create laws that protect and support the workers who provide a service that has become commonplace. As a densely populated and influential city, we must stand as a model for other cities and states to create laws that protect workers across the board.