DoorDash Wanted to Teach Delivery Workers About Their Rights. It Backfired.
A new partnership between a food delivery giant and the advocacy group New Immigrant Community Empowerment falters after workers question who’s really in charge.
DoorDash, the largest food delivery company in the country and the target of many delivery workers’ ire, planned to co-host a “Day of Action & Empowerment” Friday afternoon in Jackson Heights.
A Spanish-language digital flier with the company’s logo that circulated Thursday afternoon billed the Queens event, co-hosted with a local workers’ center and two city government agencies, as an opportunity for workers to receive free protective equipment, COVID tests and bike safety gear. They would also learn how to sign up to work and to learn their rights.
“What could they possibly teach us there?” Ernesta Galvez, a delivery worker in Manhattan, said of the company in an interview Thursday upon learning about the event. “How to keep stealing our money?”
The company’s gesture backfired.
Facing opposition from advocates and workers with Los Deliveristas Unidos, the labor group of app-based delivery workers, the event was canceled just an hour before it was slated to begin Friday at noon at the Jackson Heights offices of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, the workers’ center co-hosting the event.
It is unclear who made the decision to cancel the event and why.
“We’re proud to work with a diverse range of community partners as part of our ongoing commitment to build stronger ties in New York City,” Eli Scheinholtz, a DoorDash spokesperson, said in a statement to THE CITY. “We’ve always felt it’s important to hear from members of our own community, and we’re grateful for the perspectives we continue to hear from Dashers in New York City so that we can better address their needs.”
Nilbia Coyote, NICE’s executive director, told a group of about two dozen delivery workers gathered a block away from NICE’s Roosevelt Avenue office that the organization was “reevaluating” its agreement with DoorDash, under which the company gives funds to the nonprofit.
“Our commitment is to the working and immigrant class,” Coyote told them.
The botched effort is a sign that DoorDash is moving to insert itself into a grassroots movement that has so far been antagonistic to the apps — emulating a tactic that has been successfully employed by Silicon Valley behemoth Uber in the for-hire vehicle industry and, more recently, among its delivery workers.
Uber funds the Independent Drivers Guild, an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists that has represented ride-hailing drivers since 2016. Labor experts deem the arrangement as a version of a “company union,” a labor group dominated by an employer, which is prohibited by federal labor law, though those rules are seldom enforced.
This year, the Independent Drivers Guild retooled its efforts to include app-based food delivery workers under the organization Justice for App Workers.
Andrew Wolf, a research fellow at the Workplace Justice Lab at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations, said that app companies — generally hostile to union activity — have engaged in activities that unions generally do in an effort to undercut their organizing efforts, such as teaching workers about their rights and informing them how to file their taxes.
“You try to do what a union does in order to claim to the workers that they don’t need a union, because the company already provides it,” Wolf said.
DoorDash said it planned to have a table at the canceled event, but did not elaborate further. The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection — which is tasked with enforcing industry regulations passed by the City Council last year — had also arranged to have a presence there.
Abigail Lootens, a spokesperson for the DCWP, told THE CITY in an email that the agency planned to attend the event because “we felt it was important for workers to hear about their rights directly from us.”
Delivery workers who spoke to THE CITY noted the irony of a “day of action” co-hosted and funded by a company they allege routinely cheats them out of tips and wages.
A Manhattan delivery worker who asked only to be identified as Hector said the company owes him $8,484.77 in unpaid weekly wages from April 5, 2021 to June 7, 2021, the paystubs for which he shared with THE CITY.
“Maybe now this means they’ll put their money where their mouth is,” he said.
DoorDash said it handles payment disputes on a case by case basis.
In December, the company reached a $100 million settlement covering drivers in California and Massachusetts, over claims that the company was misclassifying workers as independent contractors.
In November, the company reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with San Francisco prosecutors over alleged labor and sick leave law violations, with the majority of the $5.3 million going towards workers. And a year earlier, it reached a $2.5 million settlement with prosecutors in Washington, over allegations that it misled customers into believing that tips were going to supplement workers’ pay.
Back on Roosevelt Avenue, Astoria worker and Los Deliveristas Unidos leader Toño Solís told Coyote and NICE leadership that whatever money DoorDash is investing in efforts like the Day of Action “is coming from wages they’ve stolen from us.”
Los Deliveristas Unidos is organized by the Workers Justice Project, a Brooklyn-based workers center that collaborates with NICE on immigrant construction and day laborer issues.
A worker who asked to be identified solely as Pacheco shared his experience getting locked out of the app after disputing $3,000 in lost wages over several weeks in May through June of 2021. He later told THE CITY that he was shut out of his DoorDash account again after getting his money back this spring, and now works at a restaurant in Midtown.
Coyote, who began in her role as executive director two weeks ago, assured Los Deliveristas Unidos that the organization would re-evaluate the DoorDash deal and make a decision in no more than a week.