New York Delivery Drivers Face Low Pay Even as Risks Mount

Food delivery drivers were lauded as essential workers while they ferried meals to customers amid Covid-19 lockdowns that brought New York City to a standstill. A year later, the couriers powering platforms like DoorDash Inc. Grubhub, and Uber Technologies Inc. are plagued by low pay and lack of basic protections even as their risks grow, a new report shows.

Antonio Solis, 34, was delivering meals in Astoria, Queens when Hurricane Ida’s torrential storms triggered tornado warnings and historic flooding across New York. Even as rising water levels threatened to damage his scooter’s motor or cause him to lose control, he kept going. “Looking back, most orders weren’t even it worth it. One was $5,” he said. “But when you need the money you have no choice but to take the risk.”

Solis is one of tens of thousands of couriers that kept delivering meals to customers at the height of the pandemic. After accounting for expenses like electric bikes and batteries, the median hourly wage for delivery workers in New York City is $7.94, excluding tips, according to a study conducted by advocacy group Worker’s Justice Project in partnership with Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Because of the wide variability in how much customers tip and irregularities in workers’ ability to collect them, including gratuities isn’t a reliable way to measure workers’ wages, said Maria Figueroa, an author of the study and Dean of SUNY Empire State College. 

New York Delivery Drivers Face Low Pay Even as Risks Mount

About 38% of respondents reported being partially or completely shorted of their tips and other earnings, the survey found, based on responses from 500 app-based couriers.

“New York City’s app-based workers already faced poor work conditions even before Covid-19,” Figueroa said. “The pandemic just made them worse.”

In particular, a growing number of bike thefts and assaults have piled on to delivery workers’ costs which average about $339 a month, researchers found. More than half of survey respondents had their bike stolen while working, and of these, nearly one-third were physically assaulted during the theft. The price tag for an electric bikes ranges from $1,300 to $2,500, according to the study.

The report comes as New York City lawmakers move to regulate gig companies after the pandemic-induced boom in food-delivery exposed vulnerabilities for the restaurants and workers that keep platforms running. A set of bills pending in the City Council aim to improve the working conditions for couriers including a minimum per-trip payment and a measure requiring restaurants to provide bathroom access to food delivery workers. On Friday, DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber sued New York City over its newly entrenched cap on the amount meal-delivery services can collect from restaurants.

A DoorDash spokeswoman called the study’s findings “misleading,” and said the company’s delivery workers receive 100% of their tips and earn $33 an hour in Manhattan. “We are actively engaged with the Dasher community and eager to engage with policymakers on ways all stakeholders can better support New York City delivery workers,” she said. 

A Grubhub spokesman said the safety of its delivery workers is a “top priority.” He declined to provide specific pay figures but said couriers get to keep their tips “100% of the time” and the company works to “make sure they receive competitive pay on the Grubhub marketplace.” 

Uber declined to comment. 

The total number of food delivery workers in New York is unclear, however, based on previous figures from New York City’s Department of Transportation, the study estimates the size of this workforce to be about 65,000. New York City is the biggest market for Grubhub, which was acquired last year by Europe’s Just Eat NV, and UberEats and the second largest for DoorDash, according to market research firm YipitData. 

Companies have long argued that most of their gig workers use the platform as a side hustle. However, 85% of couriers polled said delivery was their main and only job with another two-thirds reporting working a minimum of six days per week. And given their status as independent contractors in a low-wage section of the economy, the workers lack protections like unemployment insurance and wage protection that people classified as employees enjoy.

The overwhelming majority of app-based delivery workers in New York City are immigrants from Mexico, Central America, South Asia and West Africa, according to the report. As a result, couriers experience unique challenges and barriers to seeking accountability for pay issues or address thefts and assaults. About 35% respondents who reported incidents to the police said that officers did not file a report.

The Workers Justice Project and its gig organizing group Los Deliveristas Unidos have lobbied city and state lawmakers for greater rights and protections in recent months. This year, New York emerged as the center of a bargaining strategy between companies and labor to organize gig workers without having to grant them full employment status. Those plans were scrapped in June after quasi-union groups like the Deliveristas opposed the proposal and spurred other groups like the Transport Workers Union to withdraw support. 

DoorDash shares were down 2.1% and Uber less than 1% Monday morning in New York, while Just Eat Takeaway was down less than 1% in London. 

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