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Delivery Workers, Electeds Slam City Hall’s Gift to Uber: Mayor Adams Is ‘Capitulating to Corporate Lobbying’

An inexplicable slashing of a long-planned minimum wage has delivery workers and their advocates pointing the finger at City Hall.

4:02 PM EDT on April 7, 2023

(Clay Banks / Unplash)

It's been a long road to a minimum wage for delivery workers in New York City—and on Friday, after City Hall suddenly reversed course and struck down a huge win for workers earlier this year, delivery drivers and app-based companies went back for another round of public hearings to spar over what exactly that wage should be. 

In 2021, the City Council passed a bill setting up a wage board to study and determine what the minimum wage should be for delivery workers starting in January 2023, and in November, that board recommended an incremental phase-in of a minimum wage that would top out at $23.82 in 2025.

This past December, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection held a final hearing on that rule, which would start by giving workers a $17.87 minimum wage beginning in January 2023. At that December hearing, workers lauded the new rule, while Uber and other delivery companies railed against it, saying it would both upend their business model and cut down on overall earnings for all delivery workers. DCWP found in its own study of the issue that higher pay would possibly result in fewer overall drivers. 

January 1 came and went without any final rule going into effect (as was mandated by the City Council law)—and the Adams administration kept delaying implementation. Instead, on March 7, the DCWP released a new proposal that seemed geared toward accommodating the demands of the delivery companies that had been complaining about a higher minimum wage. Instead of getting up to a $23.82 minimum wage for delivery workers by 2025, that wage floor would now be capped at $​​19.96—and the entire hearing process would begin again, further pushing back when workers could expect a minimum wage to go into effect. 

On Friday, delivery workers and many of the City's elected officials pointed to app companies' intense lobbying of City Hall as the reason that the wage board had suddenly, and inexplicably, changed their minds. 

"[DCWP] did not provide any new information, they did not update their study," said comptroller Brad Lander at a press conference on Friday morning, ahead of the DCWP hearing to get feedback on the revised rule. "This appears to be the administration capitulating to corporate lobbying. We don't need to find a smoking gun in some secret calendar of meetings—it's right out there in public. They said they didn't want to pay their workers the minimum wage, and then the rule was revised."  

Lander was joined by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez, as well as workers with Los Deliveristas Unidos, who spoke out about how the proposed new wage not only falls far short of paying drivers for the time they spend delivering and waiting for their next delivery, but does not account for workers' out-of-pocket costs, such as health insurance, repairs to their bikes, or their lost wages when they need to take time off if they're injured on the job. 

"During the pandemic, deliveristas supported the entire city, and allowed many restaurants to stay open," said Los Deliveristas Unidos member Gustavo Ajche, who recounted a time when he was injured while on the job and had to take several unpaid weeks off before he could get back to work. "Now it's time for the City to support us, it's time to make sure that a minimum pay is delivered." 

During the press conference, Lander also bemoaned the push notifications that app-based delivery companies like Uber have used to turn their delivery drivers against the idea of a higher minimum wage. Lander compared these notifications to "captive audience" meetings used by union-busting companies. These tactics have yielded some results, as a group of drivers have broken away from Los Deliveristas Unidos and come out against the proposed wage increase

Uber, DoorDash, Grubhub, and Relay, which together handle 99 percent of restaurant deliveries in the city, remain opposed to the watered-down rule, which they view as far too generous to the delivery workers that make their businesses possible. The companies have quibbled with how the City determines when a driver is technically working for the companies, and have mostly refused to acknowledge that delivery workers should be paid for the time they wait between deliveries, even though the companies depend on workers to be available at all hours.

Both Uber and DoorDash told Hell Gate that while they support some form of "fair pay" or "minimum pay" for delivery workers, they said delivery apps might be passing on the extra costs of higher wages to consumers. Meanwhile, Uber has reported record profits in recent months. 

The pay floor would "necessitate severe and unpopular restrictions on valued delivery worker flexibility," a DoorDash representative testified today before the committee. 

"Uber, Doordash, and GrubHub use gig work to exploit and are basically stealing wages right now from workers, and I don't want to see the government be an accomplice to that theft," said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. "Unfortunately right now, our government is an accomplice." 

City Hall has not yet returned a request for comment about whether it supported this new proposal, or if it pushed the DCPW to weaken the rule based on lobbying from the delivery companies. 

"It's been two years already that we won a minimum pay," said Ajche, the delivery worker. "Either way, this is the last hearing we're having, because implementation needs to already be happening. We're not in Seattle, we're not in California, we're in New York City, where there's labor power."

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