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Analysis: NYC grants sweeping new rights to food delivery workers

City’s app-based delivery workers just secured a huge win

Food delivery drivers in New York City are about to receive a slew of new rights –– including being able to use the bathroom on the job (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Imagine not being able to use the bathroom at your place of work. For many New York City food delivery drivers, that has been the reality because restaurants aren’t required to provide them with bathroom access. At least not until now.

This week, Mayor Eric Adams and Peter A. Hatch, Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) commissioner, announced a set of provisions aimed at protecting app-based workers. The provisions, which took effect Monday, include a rule requiring restaurants to make their toilet facilities available to any delivery worker picking up a food or beverage order.

But the announcement went further. Starting April 22, third-party food delivery apps like Uber Eats (NYSE: UBER), DoorDash (NYSE: DASH) and Grubhub (NASDAQ: GRUB) will be required to pay drivers at least once a week, provide routing details before each delivery and allow drivers to limit the distance they travel from restaurants during trips. Additionally, beginning in 2023, the apps will have to pay drivers a minimum rate that will be set by the city.

It should go without saying, but this is a massive victory for delivery drivers.

“Delivery workers risked their lives and served as a lifeline to our city during the pandemic despite them being denied basic worker protections,” Adams said in a statement. “With this legislation, we are taking a transformative step in protecting these essential workers, and also supporting our city’s restaurants, to ensure a fair and equitable recovery for all New Yorkers.”

Watch: Getting into the gig economy

Besides bathroom access, the city adopted three more provisions that went into effect this week. One requires apps to tell drivers how much customers tip for each delivery, which wasn’t the case until Monday despite years of accusations that companies like DoorDash pocketed tips. DoorDash settled a lawsuit for $2.5 million on that exact issue in 2020.

Another provision mandates that they inform drivers how much they earned the previous day in tips and total pay, and the third requires the apps to obtain a license with the DCWP.

As independent contractors, food delivery drivers sacrifice the benefits of full employment for increased flexibility. But they shouldn’t have to sacrifice all of those benefits, and the fact that it’s taken half a decade and a slew of city mandates for third-party delivery apps to grant simple provisions like bathroom access says plenty about how much they value gig workers.

“This is a great step forward by the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to better protect restaurants and delivery workers as this city works to recover,” said Council Member Francisco Moya. “Enforcing these new labor standards ensures there is more transparency, supports better working conditions and gives the businesses an opportunity to increase their revenue without fear of being charged exorbitant fees. I am proud to have sponsored and supported this legislation in the City Council.”

Moya has been at the forefront of the fight for expanded protections for delivery workers since last year, when he was instrumental in passing permanent commission caps that limited how much third-party apps could charge their restaurant partners. Several of them, including Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub, are jointly suing the city in an attempt to block those rules.

The City Council also approved a provision in September that would establish a minimum payment per trip for delivery drivers. According to the city, the DCWP is conducting a minimum wage study to determine the rate, which Adams and the organization announced on Sunday will take effect in 2023.

Read: Food delivery companies in NYC face permanent commission cap

Read: NYC legislation establishes minimum payment per trip for delivery drivers

Wages are among the biggest struggles for food delivery drivers, who often make far below the city’s minimum wage. Cornell University’s Worker Institute commissioned a survey of 500 food app delivery workers. It found that on average, a New York delivery driver makes $12.21 per hour including tips, falling to $7.87 without tips. New York City’s minimum wage is $15 an hour.

That study was carried out by Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group of 65,000 largely immigrant New York City food delivery drivers and one of several groups that have been leading the push for greater protections. Last year, 4,000 deliveristas marched to City Hall in support of basic labor protections.

“Today is a day of celebration for all Los Deliveristas and our families,” Antonio “Toño” Martinez Solis, leader of the group, said on Sunday. “As of tomorrow, Jan. 24, 2022, we will see the fruits of the fight we started together — new labor rights for all Los Deliveristas of NYC — regardless of nationality, language, dialect, skin color. This journey has had challenges and human loss, but together we have come ahead. … Los Deliveristas Unidos will continue to fight to obtain justice and better working conditions for our colleagues and their families.”

Los Deliveristas aren’t the only drivers who have been outspoken in their support of the changes.

“As delivery workers, we put our lives at risk to get people food, and for us to survive,” said Didar Chowdhury, member of the nonprofit group Desis Rising Up and Moving, a collective of low-wage workers of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean heritage. “While the corporations are making millions, we make poverty wages, and have minimal support. We are doing our part to educate each other about these new regulations, and the city must do its part. And we will continue to organize and take care of each other to protect our rights for the long term.”

Solis, Chowdhury and other food delivery workers in New York will have plenty more to celebrate in the coming months when a second set of regulations takes effect in April, including laws that will give drivers more control over their routing and more transparency around pay and gratuities. For New York City, the era of gig worker empowerment is well underway.

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Jack Daleo

Jack is a staff writer for FreightWaves and Modern Shipper covering topics like last mile delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. He studied at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Previously, Jack has written for Backpacker Magazine and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and all things basketball.