New York City Laws Offer No Effective Protection to Employees of Food Delivery Applications

Food delivery man in New York. (Credit: Julia Justo via Wikimedia Commons)

On September 23, the New York City Council passed legislation consisting of six individual bills, backed by the city’s Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, which allegedly targets some of the most egregious conditions facing the roughly 80 000 employees of the city’s food delivery applications.

These workers face one of the worst conditions of overexploitation and death threat of any section of the working class in New York City and around the world in an industry that has grown exponentially since the start of the COVID pandemic- 19. Unsurprisingly, however, while the legislation is hailed in the media as “historic,” what was passed by the Democrat-controlled city council is a sham, designed to appear to be grappling with the brutal conditions under which these workers are faced while leaving things fundamentally unchanged.

As the WSWS has reported in the past, these workers, mostly immigrants and many of them undocumented, are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, which is facilitated by the fact that they are employed as ” independent contractors ”by companies such as Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber. Eat, rather than like regular employees. While employee status would certainly not guarantee significant improvements, as the emerging struggles of workers around the world clearly attest, the fiction of being “independent” and “their own boss” leaves food delivery people in the dark. an even worse situation. To show how inconsequential the new legislation really is, Grubhub has reportedly expressed support for the measures.

The employment of the food delivery app workers is completely at the discretion of the companies. Without regular or predictable income, they are forced to work long hours to earn what is typically below the city’s minimum wage of $ 15 / hour, which is totally insufficient in one of the most expensive cities in the world. . Some companies have skimmed tips, which are an essential part of workers’ income. The distances to be covered in order to make a delivery are unlimited, with workers subject to a priority “demotion” to be assigned assignments if they refuse excessively long journeys.

Workers, traveling by bicycle or motorbike, are expected to make deliveries in all weather conditions, including recently to streets flooded by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. They receive no paid leave, no medical insurance and no compensation for the purchase or repair of their vehicles. They are even denied the use of the toilets by some of the restaurants to which they make deliveries.

There are also no protections against the increasingly violent and sometimes fatal thefts of their “rides”, the loss of which prevents them from continuing to work. Electric bikes cost around $ 2,000.

In addition, a number of workers have been killed when struck by motorists, often with hit-and-run, the most recent last week in Brooklyn. A recent study found that 49% of app delivery workers had been involved in some sort of accident or crash. A total of 16 workers have been killed in the past two years.

New York City law leaves the basic question of employment status (i.e., independent contractor versus employee) unanswered and only provides cosmetic remedies for a few of the others. It is supposed to provide “guarantees” against some of the most abusive practices of app companies.

Among the provisions of the law are those which:

  • Prohibit companies from charging fees to workers for their remuneration;
  • Require disclosure of tip policies;
  • Prohibit companies from charging workers for the necessary insulated food bags;
  • Allow workers to specify the maximum distances they are willing to travel and the territories in which they will work; and
  • Require restaurants to allow workers to access washrooms.

Patricia Campos-Medina, executive director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in collaboration with Los Deliveristas Unidos, who conducted a recent survey ( Essential but unprotected ) of the conditions experienced by the workers of the food delivery app, was cited by the New York Times as calling the new legislation a “floor” that represents the “fundamental rights” of workers. It is not so.

The legislation assumes that members of this atomized, oppressed and impoverished workforce, without even the minimum protections of existing labor laws, and dependent on the arbitrary whims of the employment app society, will be able to challenge violations of the new “protections” law without retaliation.

Even if these minimum protections were to be fully implemented, which is doubtful, delivery people would still find themselves in dire straits in appalling conditions. Workers would still have no guaranteed income, health insurance, paid vacation, compensation for the purchase or repair of their vehicles, or protection against punitive reduction in work allowances or dismissal.

Despite the enormous growth in the food delivery industry since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will only continue if the disease continues to spread, these companies are struggling to make a profit, causing a fierce competition and ever greater pressure to wrest profits from their workers. They have gone to great lengths to block or remove any legislation that would in any way hamper their freedom to set their prices and exploit their workforce. For example, last year in California, companies sponsored Proposition 22, which allowed them to continue to classify workers as independent contractors.

New York City law also contains a provision to consider what delivery people should be paid. Such “studies” are known as mechanisms for delaying and finding “fair” results based on what companies say they can afford, in other words, maintaining the status quo. The deadline for the delivery of the study is January 1, 2023.

Currently, food delivery companies are battling new municipal regulations that limit the fees they can charge restaurants for their services.

Efforts have been made by a number of organizations associated with the Democratic Party, including Los Deliveristas Unidos, to promote the unionization of food delivery workers, with the help of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Workers need to be extremely careful with these efforts, which are directly or indirectly associated with existing unions, such as the Teamsters, which are making a major effort to organize Amazon workers. The SEIU has played a major role in blocking or limiting strike action by healthcare workers during the pandemic and enforcing sales contracts that have left workers understaffed and underpaid.

State-wide legislation, promoted by Uber, was proposed earlier this year to make it easier to organize concert workers. The effort failed because it was exposed as a mechanism designed to subordinate the interests of workers to those of union bureaucracies. Among other things, the bill would have included a provision to establish a “labor peace” agreement, under which no strike, protest or other such action by workers would be allowed. The workers would have had no effective voice in the struggle for their demands and, as has become the main role of these organizations over the past half century, the unions would function as subcontractors, responding to the interests of the companies. while securing a new source of income to support union bureaucrats through membership dues.

It is telling that Los Deliveristas Unidos’ year-long campaign to pressure politicians to pass legislative protections for delivery people has yielded nothing more than this pitiful fig leaf of a law. Such efforts are premised on the idea that the capitalist political establishment, especially Democrats, as well as completely corrupt unions, can be pressured to improve the living standards of working people. It is a fiction and a diversion. For half a century, workers have suffered incessant attacks on their economic well-being by both political parties, with the collaboration of the unions. The impact of the pandemic has only intensified this process.

No effective struggle can be waged against these attacks by accepting the limits of capitalism. The only way forward for workers is to build new struggle organizations – grassroots committees – in every workplace, which are completely independent from both the unions and the Democratic Party and based on an international socialist program.

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