Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hopes to steer funds from the federal infrastructure bill to build rest areas for New York City’s delivery workers, he announced during a Wednesday ride-along in Harlem with the labor group Los Deliveristas Unidos.
“I’m going to tell them about the Deliveristas,” the Senate majority leader promised regarding his colleagues in Washington. “For instance, they want little kiosks, little shelters where they can rest, go to the bathroom — infrastructure money could be used for that. We’d give it to the city and we’d put pressure on the city to do that.”
He was referring to the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package the Senate passed last month, which includes funds for roads, bridges and more.
Shortly before a group ride down Amsterdam Avenue near City College, Schumer listened as more than a dozen delivery workers described the serious accidents they’ve encountered on the job, from getting hit by cars to crashing their bikes attempting to avoid potholes and oil slicks on city streets.
Workers also talked about their wages, with most saying they rarely made more than $90 to $100 during a 12-hour day — far lower than the city’s $15-an-hour minimum wage.
And the largely immigrant workers digested the value of having one of the nation’s most powerful leaders — a fellow New York City cyclist — at their side.
“We’re grateful that the senator reached out to us, and we hope that he learned more about the work, and that he got a feel for how we live day in and day out,” Jonán, a Washington Heights delivery worker whom Schumer accompanied, told THE CITY in Spanish.
“One delivery is not enough to understand the full experience, it’s something you have to do every day to truly feel what we feel,” said Jonán, who asked that his last name be withheld out of fear of retaliation from the apps.
Said Schumer of his two hours with Los Deliveristas Unidos: “This was a whole education, and I want to educate a whole lot of people about them.”
Schumer is the latest elected official to respond to pleas from Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group of app-based delivery workers who’ve organized around job conditions.
Last month, the City Council approved a landmark slate of bills, including mandating minimum per-trip payments and a right to use restaurant bathrooms — making New York the first major U.S. city to set such protections for app-based food delivery workers.
Theft of expensive e-bikes and muggings on the job have become increasingly urgent issues, prompting workers to band together for safety, communicating by WhatsApp and keeping an eye on one another as they navigate city streets.
In March, Harlem delivery worker Francisco Villalva Vitinio was fatally shot by a stranger who tried to steal his e-bike, his family told THE CITY. A Queens man was arrested and charged with murder in May.
Schumer on Wednesday praised delivery workers as “essential.”
“It’s not an easy job. It’s both hard work, and it’s dangerous,” he said. “Sometimes the people don’t treat you very nicely, they don’t even know that they should give you a tip like they give a waiter in a restaurant. So there’s a lot that has to be done to educate the public.”
New York City’s roughly 65,000 food delivery workers earn an average of $7.87 an hour before tips, a survey released last month of more than 500 app-based workers found.
More than 85% of respondents said that app-based delivery work was their main and only job — challenging the portrayal of so-called “gig” work by tech companies such as DoorDash and Uber Eats.
Nearly half said they’ve been in a crash while doing a delivery, according to the survey done by the Workers Justice Project and the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Workers who endured injuries on the job were among those who rode with Schumer Wednesday.
Manny Ramírez, a Washington Heights delivery worker, required emergency care when a driver struck him mid-delivery in late September.
Rufino Marcelo has a scar across his left cheek from an accident he suffered on the job four years ago. He shot off of his bike after slipping on an oil slick on the street, and landed face-first on shattered glass on the pavement.
“This is why we are demanding safer roads, to avoid more accidents,” Marcelo, 39, said in Spanish.
And 28-year-old Orquídea, who declined to give her last name, said she braved flood waters in The Bronx during Hurricane Ida last month — only to get pennies in return.
“Because of the rain, I only did three deliveries all night,” she said in Spanish. “Each one only paid $4 or $7 dollars.”
Following local reforms, the Deliveristas are looking at legislation at the state or federal level.
On the agenda: the federal Protect the Right to Organize, or PRO, Act — a sweeping reform of national labor law that would grant full employment rights to independent contractors nationwide, among other things.
Approved by the House in March, the bill remains in gridlock in the 50-50 split Senate, which needs at least 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.
While elements of the PRO Act found their way into the infrastructure bill, for procedural reasons they are unlikely to survive a process known as budget reconciliation that would enable the package to pass with 51 votes.
Schumer reiterated his support for the PRO Act in remarks to THE CITY about the deliveristas. “We have to make sure that they can organize. There shouldn’t be barriers in the way of them organizing, and we’re going to look at every different way for them to do that.”
Schumer said that he usually orders delivery directly from restaurants, but that he’s used Grubhub in the past to get food.
“One thing I do order is cheesecake,” he said. “Junior’s cheesecake. It’s my favorite thing.”