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Food Delivery Workers Toiling Through Historic Flooding Call Skimpy Wages and Tips ‘A Cruel Joke’

Delivery workers in Astoria toiled in waist-deep water for less than $12 an hour as the remnants of Hurricane Ida poured over the region Wednesday night.
Delivery workers toiled amid the flood for less than $12 an hour in some cases as the remnants of Hurricane Ida poured over the region Wednesday night.
Obtained by THE CITY

As the remnants of Hurricane Ida barreled down on New York City Wednesday night, stranding vehicles on highways and bringing mass transit to a halt, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged people to stay off the roads so first responders could help storm victims.

But many of the city’s delivery workers had no choice but to go outside to make a living, carting food in sometimes hip-deep water for what some called “pathetic” pay.

Some suffered damage to their e-bikes, which cost around $3,500 each.

“It’s a cruel joke,” said Toño Solís, a member of the delivery worker labor collective Los Deliveristas Unidos, of the lousy wages and tips he received. “This is exactly why we protest and we organize — we need fair wages. These companies are getting richer and richer and we’re only earning $5 in these conditions.”

Solis made his final delivery of the night at 9:30 p.m. He said he earned just $5 for the hour-long trip to deliver the meal in Brooklyn from Astoria, including tip. His total earnings for his 9.5-hour workday were just $115 — or roughly $12 an hour with tips.

The Few, The Brave

By 10 p.m. Wednesday, all of the city’s subway lines were out of service and sections of many major roadways were underwater, including the FDR Drive in Manhattan and the Major Deegan Expressway in The Bronx.

Around that same time, a Twitter user shared a video of a delivery worker in Brooklyn toting a bag of takeout in knee-deep water. The video quickly went viral, amassing more than 6 million views and garnering the attention of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-The Bronx/Queens).

“Please do not be the person who orders delivery during a flash flood that the NWS has deemed a dangerous and life-threatening situation. It puts vulnerable people at risk,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “If it’s too dangerous for you, it’s too dangerous for them.”

As more hungry customers stayed home and fewer delivery workers were willing to brave flood conditions, demand for deliveries soared.

Delivery workers told THE CITY that the app’s algorithm assigns workers more than one delivery per restaurant pick-up when demand increases — something obscured to the workers until they reach the restaurant. Workers face getting locked out by the apps if they object to the delivery distance or number of trips.

That meant those who were out Wednesday night were forced to make more than one delivery per restaurant per trip, traveling further distances to meet demand.

Grubhub, one of the major delivery apps most commonly used by couriers in the city, pays workers a base wage of $2 per delivery, an amount that increases with demand.

On Wednesday night, as fewer went out to work in the torrential downpour, those who braved flood conditions saw their base wages increase to as much as $7 per delivery, said Lázaro Morales, a Grubhub worker in Astoria.

A ledger displaying how much food delivery workers earned in Manhattan during Wednesday’s flooding.
Ledger shows how little one food delivery worker earned during Wednesday’s flooding
Obtained by THE CITY

But workers said even that wasn’t enough to make up for the risk — and the meager tips they received from some hungry customers.

“This was the most horrible day ever on the job,” Morales, who earned $277 total on Grubhub including tips after 14 hours of work, told THE CITY. “The clients are very inconsiderate: As long as they get their meal, they don’t care about us.”

Customers, he said, should be more considerate — but so should the apps, said fellow Astoria courier Saúl Bazán, who also delivers for Grubhub. “This just proves what we’ve been asking for,” Bazán said. “We deserve to be paid hourly wages, and then tips. This isn’t worth it. It’s abusive.”

Small Tips, Little Protection

Los Deliveristas Unidos, of which Morales and Bazán are also members, have protested and asked local and state elected officials to intervene and force tech companies to pay workers hourly wages, among other demands.

The delivery workers initially banded together amid the pandemic, arguing that they’ve been treated poorly even while risking their health to help keep New Yorkers fed during the worst of the coronavirus crisis.

Some of the workers who went out into the deluge Wednesday night saw damage to their e-bikes.

A delivery worker in Washington Heights told THE CITY he had to buy spare parts and repair his electric scooter himself on Thursday morning after the night of heavy rain left it inoperable. The man, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the delivery-app companies, said he worked for 14 hours on Wednesday for the app Relay, from 6 a.m. to a little after 8 p.m.

And the tips?

“I have no words,” he said in Spanish via a text message, adding an eye-roll emoji. “In 14 hours, I made barely more than $200,” including tips, he said.

Workers Justice Project Executive Director Ligia Guallpa said the organization, which represents Los Deliveristas Unidos, is raising funds to help workers whose bikes and other property were affected by Wednesday’s storm.

A Relay representative did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

A Grubhub spokesperson said in a written statement that delivery workers are allowed to decline assignments and that the company on Wednesday “paused” deliveries “as needed based on local conditions” Wednesday. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a follow-up question about when exactly the pause was in effect.

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