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NYC improves conditions for gig economy delivery drivers

As the gig economy takes on an increasing number of contractors every year, New York City is determined to look after workers with its most widespread service: app-based food delivery.

These days, enjoying grub from our favourite restaurants and fast-food outlets is all but a few clicks (and usually a half hour wait) away, thanks to the gig economy.

In the last five years or so, food apps like Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Grubhub, and DoorDash have unequivocally transformed the takeaway business. As with all major shake-ups to convenience services, the novelty has now worn off and new expectations have been set.

Yet, beyond transferring over a quick tip, can regulars of these apps say we really consider the conditions of drivers ferrying food around cities 24-7?

In New York City, which is largely regarded as the ‘financial state’ of the world, recent reports found that such gig workers were previously paid below the minimum wage requirement of $15 an hour.

The response from governors in the New York City Council has seen a new bill proposed, which intends to better support food couriers in the city and prompt wider consideration beyond.

The downside of gig

While the flexible nature of the gig economy is often lauded, allowing workers to hop in and out of jobs at their own discretion and choose their own hours, 30% have chosen the ‘pay by task’ lifestyle out of necessity.

The sad reality is that many in the business feel exploited and certainly not liberated.

Ranked among the four worst US states for unemployment, the population of food couriers in New York is largely made up of those beneath the breadline – the underqualified, laid off, or migrants.

Though it receives little coverage in the mainstream media, unions of delivery workers such as the Los Deliveristas Unidos, have long bemoaned meagre hourly wages of around $12.20 which is around 19% below the state minimum.

‘The bitter truth is that many food delivery workers can work 12 hours a day in the cold or rain for multiple food service apps and still not make enough to feed their own families,’ the LDU website reads.

During the height of Covid-19 last year, when demands for in-app deliveries were particularly high, protests were staged claiming that the financial incentive to work was putting gig couriers at risk for insubstantial reward.

A year on, continuously low rates and no contact perks to speak of have even led many to continue working through Hurricane Ida, despite the likes of DoorDash and Grubhub suspending service throughout Manhattan amid 13 deaths.

The start of a fairer economy?

LDU’s decisive survey grabbed the attention of the New York City Council by amassing data from 500 app-based couriers, revealing that minimum wage brackets were not being honoured, while workers were especially vulnerable to theft and traffic accidents.

Since then, it has been announced that a new bill will allow couriers to demand minimum payment tariffs per trip, receive all tips, refuse long distance drop offs, and finally access restaurant toilets – which was also a particular gripe.

‘The basic human dignity of delivery workers, many of whom are immigrants, has been ignored for too long across the country,’ said an NYC Council spokesperson.

‘New York City is taking the lead in transforming this industry with a legislative package that will give deliveristas the rights they deserve.’

This legislation represents the very first of its kind in any major US state, and sets a precedent for regions of the world where gig workers continue to be exploited.

While this isn’t the case everywhere, this high-profile story is sure to raise awareness about the issue and will hopefully contribute to a fairer gig economy in the near future.


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