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NYC Delivery Workers Banding Together To Protect Each Other From Becoming Targets Of Violent Crimes

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- In the worst of the pandemic, with New York City on lockdown, an army of 65,000 delivery workers on bikes kept the city fed, often risking their lives, but many of them have become targets of violent criminals.

CBS2's Maurice DuBois spoke to some of these workers about the service they perform and how they're banding together to stay safe.

A dark, isolated stretch along the Willis Avenue Bridge connecting Manhattan and the Bronx is the perfect spot for an attack on food delivery workers. It's where thieves ambushed one man, beat his face and made off with his livelihood -- a $2,000 electric bike.

"They beat him with a chain or whatever they have," Juan Tapia said.

It's happened dozens of times in recent months, and Tapia and Sergio Solano are out to stop it.

"We don't want to fight with anybody. We just protect ourselves," Solano said.

The "Delivery Boys," as they're known, patrol the area after their shifts, helping delivery workers cross the bridge safely.

During the pandemic, delivery workers, often making below minimum wage, were outside, facing extreme weather, hazardous streets, including deadly hit-and-runs, and the constant threat of robbery.

Some delivery workers were assaulted when they tried to stop the theft of a bike.

Cheick Mohamed, a 26-year-old immigrant from Mali, has been a delivery worker for two years.

"You worry about getting hurt," DuBois said.

"Yes," Mohamed said.

DuBois met up with Mohamed at a bike repair shop, a refuge for dozens of these essential workers.

"You've been hit by cars," DuBois said.

"Yes," Mohamed said.

"By taxis," DuBois said.

"Yes," Mohamed said.

"You've had your bike stolen," DuBois said.

"Uh-huh. Every day, I'm worrying something else can happen to me on the street," Mohamed said.

In a recent survey, 54% of delivery workers, many of them immigrants, reported being robbed and 30% said they were assaulted during the robbery.

"So why is it important for you to be here every night?" DuBois asked Tapia.

"It's important for me. I protect my guys. I protect my people," Tapia said.

The Delivery Boys communicate in real time over apps, sending alerts whenever someone is in trouble.

"You get here and then what?" DuBois said.

"When they see those guys all together, they can't do anything," Tapia said.

"Strength in numbers," DuBois said.

"Yes," Tapia said.

"Did you feel like maybe you could get shot, you could get cut?" DuBois said.

"Yes," Solano said. "Last week, we have a guy shot ... just because they wanna take his bike."

This year, 10 delivery workers were killed on the job. These deaths were the last straw for the Delivery Boys. They started protesting and lobbying city officials.

In September, New York City passed measures to improve working conditions and set minimum pay, but it's hard to legislate safety.

"If there was nobody protecting this bridge like you are, what would happen?" DuBois said.

"They come back," Tapia said.

"They'd come right back?" DuBois said.

"That's gonna happen," Tapia said.

"So you have to stay?" Dubois said.

"We have to stay," Tapia said.

The bills passed by City Council in September outline basic working standards, including minimum per trip payments for workers and ensuring they have access to bathrooms.

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