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New York City moves to improve life for food delivery workers

New York City is set to become the first municipality in the U.S. to set baseline working conditions for thousands of people in the Big Apple who deliver food for services such as DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats.

The six new bills passed this week, which Mayor Bill De Blasio is expected to sign, will impact an estimated 65,000 app-based food couriers. Together, the measures require that app companies:

  • Coordinate with restaurants to ensure delivery workers are allowed use the bathrooms while awaiting orders
  • Pay delivery workers at least once a week and without charging a fee
  • Provide workers with free insulated delivery bags after they have made at least six deliveries
  • Allow workers to set a maximum distance they're willing to travel for deliveries
  • Clarify on their platforms what percentage of a customer's bill goes toward a delivery worker's tip

New York City's Department of Consumer and Worker Protection will also study the working conditions for food delivery workers and create rules for a minimum payment amount per trip.

These changes come as welcome news to Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group of delivery workers who organized to support the legislation since the coronavirus pandemic began. Spokesperson Hildalyn Colón Hernández said the new legal protections represent an important victory for delivery workers, but mark only the beginning for the group. 

Los Deliveristas Unidos will also push for a modified version of workers' compensation because "we do have a huge issue with accidents and fatalities" in New York, Hernández told CBS MoneyWatch. "This will change the conversation about delivery workers and maybe more people will want to join."

"Basic humanity"

A majority of New York City's 51-member council on Thursday voted in favor of the food delivery laws.. 

"It should not have taken a pandemic or a set of flash floods to see the basic humanity of the folks that have been delivering food to us long before this pandemic," Councilman Brad Lander said. "They are workers out there working every day simply trying, like others, to put food on the table and pay their rent."

The bill related to tipping is particularly noteworthy, council members said. For years, an ambiguous "services fee" line on a bill has confused some customers and likely prevented delivery workers from earning more in tips, they argued.

"The customers were very generous during COVID, and we want to make sure [workers] get every dime that they deserve," Councilwoman Margaret Chin said.

The legislation is slated to take effect at a time when food couriers report grueling, and even dangerous, working conditions.

Delivery workers hit the streets six days a week for 10-plus hours and only earn what amounts to $7.94 an hour, according to a survey of 500 app-based delivery workers conducted by Cornell University and Brooklyn nonprofit the Worker's Justice Project. Delivery workers said they often get paid late, or not at all, and are routinely denied access to the bathrooms at restaurants where they pick up orders. 

Delivery workers also report having to pay for medical care out of their own pocket after being hit by a vehicle while making a delivery. New York City workers recently told New York Magazine that they are sometimes attacked by thieves for their electric bicycles, which typically cost $1,500 or more. Hernández of Los Deliveristas Unidos said her group is pushing local police to more aggressively investigate such thefts.

The issues facing food delivery workers predate COVID-19, labor experts said. The global pandemic only magnified the plight of these workers once more Americans started ordering food from home.

"Before, they were invisible and nobody cared about them," Patricia Campos-Medina, executive director of Cornell's Worker Institute, told CBS MoneyWatch. "Now they've been saying our conditions are horrible." 

"Common sense steps"

Some of the nation's largest food delivery apps said they approve of the working condition rules. In a statement Thursday, Relay Delivery called the measures a victory for delivery workers everywhere. Grubhub also expressed support.

"These bills are common sense steps to support the delivery workers who work hard every day for New York's restaurants and residents," Grubhub said in a statement.

Uber Eats did not respond to requests for comment. The company, along with DoorDash and others, are suing New York City after lawmakers capped delivery fees at 15% of a total order.

DoorDash stopped short of saying it supports the delivery worker rules, but company officials "share the goal of identifying policies that will help Dashers and workers like them," according to a statement. 

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