Facing mounting criticism over the working conditions of couriers, app-based food delivery company DoorDash says it will offer some concessions to delivery workers in New York City. 

In a blog post Wednesday, the San Francisco-based tech company said it will work on increasing the workers’ bathroom access in restaurants, roll out new safety measures and supply some free and discounted bike gear in the new year. The company said it consulted couriers on the changes — but none from New York and some from as far away as Alaska.

DoorDash — which debuted for public trading on the New York Stock Exchange at roughly $190 a share last week — did not say whether it would boost the workers’ wages or classify them as company employees. As independent contractors, the couriers are shut out of benefits employees are legally entitled to, including overtime pay, paid sick leave and a minimum wage. 

Among the concessions are an emergency assistance button in the app, “free reflective gear” to couriers who use bikes or scooters — and discounted safety equipment from the DoorDash store, such as phone mounts and helmets. The company is also offering two weeks of free e-bike rentals with a $100 deposit, more than an entire day’s pay for most delivery workers.

The modest “series of initiatives to help support the New York Dasher community” came 10 days after THE CITY reported on “Los deliveristas unidos,” an informal network of Guatemalan and Mexican food delivery workers in Manhattan who are pushing back on the multi-billion dollar tech industry, seeking increased protections and better pay. 

When the pandemic bore down on New York, ramping down restaurants to delivery or takeout only, DoorDash began distributing free protective equipment to its delivery workers. But that amounted to a small — “chiquitito” — bottle of hand sanitizer and a single face mask, said Sergio Ajche, a food courier who works in Lower Manhattan. 

“These companies cover their backs by offering us insignificant things,” Ajche, 37, said in his native Spanish. 

The phone mount on Ajche’s e-bike set him back $25. Even at a discounted rate, he suspects buying the same item from DoorDash’s internal store, where it currently costs roughly $40 to $50, will still be more than if he purchased it himself elsewhere. 

As the company’s valuation soared to roughly $60 billion and made billionaires out of three executives, Ajche and other DoorDash couriers received an email from the tech company extolling the public offering. DoorDash also promised so-called Dashers a bonus of $500 for completing 5,000 deliveries on the platform, according to a copy of the email shared with THE CITY. 

Not Heard

Bathroom access has become a flashpoint for New York City’s delivery workers, who say that the pandemic has led restaurants to increasingly bar them from using the facilities during a pick-up, unlike traditional employees. 

DoorDash, which says its services are utilized by some 4,141 restaurants in New York City, said in its post that nearly 200 restaurant owners have so far agreed to make restrooms available to app couriers, with more to come. 

While the company says it’s working with “local leaders to find additional ways to address bathroom access,” several City Council and state lawmakers are already mulling legislation to ensure that food app delivery workers can use restaurant bathrooms. 

According to DoorDash, the measures the company is putting forward were developed with Councilmembers Ydanis Rodríguez (D-Manhattan), who chairs the transportation committee, and Robert Cornegy (D-Brooklyn). But according to the deliveristas, neither lawmaker has met with them. 

Hundreds of delivery cyclists packed into City Hall Park to call for job protections during the coronavirus outbreak, Oct. 15, 2020. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“These politicians are intervening without asking workers or communicating with us on how to fix things,” said Ajche. “They have visibility and are moving their own way, but where does that leave the workers?” 

Workers Justice Project Executive Director Ligia Guallpa, who is advising the workers on their campaign, also said neither Council member has met with the group of men. 

Spokespersons for Rodríguez and Cornegy were not immediately available for comment.

In addition to Rodríguez and Cornegy, DoorDash says the initiatives they’ve crafted were also in consultation with the “Dasher Community Council” and the “Voices from Dashers of Color Council” — groups of DoorDash couriers who provide the company feedback. 

None of the members of the two groups of “Dashers” are from New York. The closest member of either group lives some 460 miles away in Cleveland. The furthest hails from Alaska. 

Guallpa stressed that the onus of accountability falls on local and state lawmakers.

“We know that at the end of the day, if it’s not a law, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “At this point, we’re really calling on City Council members to mandate the right for restaurants to open up the bathrooms, but also to mandate that collective shared responsibility by the apps.”

Enforcement Questions

Delivery workers, advocates, experts and lawmakers reacted to the tech giant’s announcement with skepticism.

Some raised concerns about the lack of clarity over which delivery workers get access to bathrooms and when, noting that most workers rely on more than one app to make ends meet.

“This is only for DoorDash delivery workers. What about for those who are doing deliveries for other companies: Would they always have access to these restaurants, would they only have access to these restaurants when they’re doing deliveries for DoorDash?” asked María Figueroa, director of policy and research of the Worker Institute at Cornell University.

“So, how do they enforce this? They’re saying ‘We’re reaching out to our restaurant partners,’ and that’s great, but there’s no law that requires the restaurants to comply,” she added.

Others pointed out that DoorDash’s promise of access to bathrooms at its restaurant partners while “picking up an order” suggests that workers cannot relieve themselves at those establishments between deliveries.

“Consider that DoorDash advertises that their workers deliver food from 4,141 restaurants in NYC — which means that their delivery workers would only have access to bathrooms for less than 5% of the DoorDash-affiliated restaurants,” noted Do Lee, a Queens College professor who studies local delivery workers. 

“This announcement comes nowhere near any serious solution for bathroom access needs for DoorDash’s NYC delivery workers,” Lee added.

It’s a sentiment shared by City Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), who represents the Bensonhurst district where many deliveristas live. Brannan announced last week that he is working on a proposal to ensure that food delivery workers have access to bathrooms.

“Any company that wants to make this right needs to bring workers to the table first. And any promises made must be codified either by contract, by law, or both,” he said.

“It’s gonna take more than a puffed-up press release and two weeks of ‘free’ bike rental to fix this. Nice try though.”

Guallpa said that the workers have not lost sight of the ultimate goal.

“What workers need is to earn dignified wages that allow them to live with dignity to pay rent, to feed their families, and to actually have a dignified life without having to expose their own lives in order to feed New Yorkers,” she said.