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Delivery Workers Hungry for Higher Wages Say App Companies Are Stirring the Pot

A hearing on the battle for a minimum wage standard for food-delivery services’ couriers got heated with accusations of misinformation and corporate shenanigans.

SHARE Delivery Workers Hungry for Higher Wages Say App Companies Are Stirring the Pot

Some food delivery workers for companies including Grubhub are questioning a move to pay them higher wages.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

App-based delivery workers and their advocates who testified at a hearing to increase their minimum wage on Friday said corporate scare tactics were pushing them into accepting less pay than they should be entitled to. 

A law passed by the City Council in 2021 and set to start at the beginning of this year guarantees the food couriers for services like DoorDash and GrubHub a minimum hourly pay rate.

Initially, the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection proposed a rate of $23.82 an hour by 2025.  

But the department rewrote its proposal in March and introduced a new, lower rate, starting at $17.96 an hour and rising only to $19.96 by 2025.

Friday’s hearing offered a chance for public comment on the revised proposal yielded vocal pushback from delivery workers and their supporters.

The agency said that the rule redo was needed because many workers get paid by more than one delivery app. But elected officials and other advocates for workers on Friday argued the move was the result of the city bowing to the will of the tech companies.

“I’m angry, first of all, that this appears to be nothing more than the administration capitulating to the corporate lobbying of DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber,” Comptroller Brad Lander said at a news conference just before the public hearing on the law. Lander introduced the pay standards bill when he served on City Council.

More than 200 people signed up to testify. Manny Ramirez, a delivery worker for more than eight years, said the companies were sending messages through the app and via text to scare workers away from supporting any pay increase, indicating that “we’re going to lose our jobs if we don’t be on the side of the companies.”

“That is not right,” Ramirez added.

Other delivery workers who testified said they feared the loss of flexibility or opportunities if the new pay scale was introduced. Companies have warned drivers that work opportunities may have to be rationed if the new pay floors go into effect.

One woman who said she works a full-time job in real estate appraisal, testified that she appreciated the ability to pick up occasional jobs for cash, on her schedule.

“Dashing has allowed me the flexibility to supplement my income,” she said during her testimony. 

A Two-Way Street

The debate over the wage increase has created a schism in the movement known as Los Deliveristas Unidos, which has been pushing for a minimum wage for work that is typically paid per delivery.

Some delivery workers have complaints with the Workers Justice Project, the nonprofit group that backs the Deliveristas campaign, and its executive director, Ligia Guallpa. Nearly 100 workers picketed at the site of a planned Workers Justice Project fundraiser at a downtown Manhattan community center on March 16, even after it was canceled. There was another protest outside City Hall last week where workers chanted and held signs, including one with Guallpa’s picture and “¡Fuera Ligia!” (Out with Ligia!) written on it.

At earlier protests, they ripped up Los Deliveristas Unidos t-shirts and tried to light them on fire.

At the hearing on Friday, Guallpa addressed the dissent, saying it stemmed from fears stoked by the app companies.

“Unfortunately, workers are misplaced in their frustration on the organizer and the organization rather than the companies, because the companies are misleading them,” she said.

“They’re telling them that they have to change their business model, they have to exploit workers, they have to deactivate workers, because they’re organizing to secure more pay.”

Locked Out?

Representatives for the apps contend the pay structure as proposed will hurt many delivery workers, who would be sidelined as the companies try to put limits on the supply of workers they must pay on an hourly basis regardless of the volume of delivery calls coming in.

“While we support fair pay for delivery workers, under the proposal as written, the best performing couriers will have better access to work the times and locations they want and many others will be ‘locked out’ of the work they want all together,” Josh Gold, a spokesperson for Uber, said during his testimony.

He cited the city’s own study underlying the pay proposal, which said the “greatest adverse impacts from the rule for workers are likely to be the actions apps take to reduce platform access for workers whose time generates relatively little revenue or to alter requirements in ways some workers find undesirable.”

Sascha Owen, the senior manager of New York government relations for DoorDash, said during testimony that the new costs will carry over to consumers.

“The extreme pay rate, $33.27 per hour for platforms selecting the trip time pay option, will result in unsustainable new costs for New York City consumers and hundreds of millions in lost revenue for local restaurants and businesses,” she said, referencing an alternative compensation scheme added in the revised pay proposal.

A spokesperson for Grubhub, Liza Dee, pointed to the flexibility the company contends could be curbed under the proposal. 

“While Grubhub supports increased earnings for our delivery partners, we urge the city to take into account the wishes of drivers who want to continue to set their own schedules and work when and where they choose,” she told THE CITY in a statement.

The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection will review Friday’s testimony and are set to publish any tweaks to the wage rules in the coming weeks.

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