When indoor dining shut down during the pandemic, food delivery apps thrived. But the people delivering the food – workers celebrated as essential – faced risks to their safety and unfair working conditions.
In New York City, food delivery workers decided to take action. They used social media, smartphones, and the Internet – the same tools used by food delivery apps – to protect themselves and fight for better working conditions. Recently, New York became the first major city in the U.S. to enact basic protections for food delivery workers.
In the latest episode of A Better Life?, Producer Oscar Durand tells the story of Cesar, a delivery worker from Mexico who found a cause and a community while organizing his fellow delivery workers in New York. We also speak with Hildalyn Colón Hernández from Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group that advocates for delivery workers in New York City.
After losing his restaurant job during the pandemic, Cesar Solano, 20, started working for a food delivery app. Making deliveries to people’s homes during a health and economic crisis in New York City, put Cesar and workers like him at risk.
“I saw my colleagues being exploited. I saw how we were denied the use of bathrooms. I saw robberies, accidents, and tip theft,” Cesar says.
Cesar, an immigrant from Guerrero, Mexico, and a group of his colleagues decided to use the power of social media, smartphones, and the Internet to fight for better conditions for delivery workers.
Last year during the pandemic, food delivery apps’ more than doubled their business. Food delivery apps classify workers like Cesar as independent contractors, so they wouldn’t have to provide benefits such as health insurance or even pay them minimum wage. There are an estimated 65-thousand delivery workers in New York City. The overwhelming majority are immigrant men, many of them from Latin America.
Cesar is one of the founders of El Diario de los Deliveryboys en la Gran Manzana (The Diary of The Delivery Boys in the Big Apple), a Facebook group where delivery drivers build connections, share news, and organize to address specific issues, like organizing support when a worker suffers an accident or is robbed.
For example, when food delivery workers started getting their electric bikes stolen at a bridge in East Harlem, Cesar and his team sprang into action. Every night they would gather on one side of the Willis Avenue Bridge, encouraging workers to cross in groups of five or more people. By practicing safety in numbers, the robberies decreased and eventually stopped. The nights Cesar and his colleagues spent at the bridge also strengthened the delivery worker community.
In April, hundreds of delivery workers marched in midtown Manhattan demanding improved working conditions. The march was organized by Los Deliveristas Unidos, one of the city’s best-known collectives of delivery workers. Deliverista is Spanglish for “delivery worker.”
As a result of Los Deliveristas Unidos’ activism, in September, the New York City Council approved a package of bills that set minimum standards for food delivery workers. New York is the first city in the country to enact this kind of legislation.
The new bills establish a minimum per-trip payment, require apps to give workers free insulated bags, disclose information about tips, and prohibit apps from charging fees for delivery workers to receive their wages. Workers will also have a say on how far they are willing to travel to make deliveries. Restaurants are now also required to make their restrooms available to delivery workers.
After learning about the approved bills, Cesar is cautiously optimistic. He says the changes look good on paper, but he wants to see them implemented before celebrating.
“My dream is that, as essential workers in this city, we are protected and can live without fear,” Cesar says.
Feet in 2 Worlds is supported by The Ford Foundation, the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, an anonymous donor and readers like you.