New York News

The ‘Brotherhood’ of Delivery Workers in City Seeks ‘Fair Pay’

William Medina (left) and his co-worker, Antonio Solis, are members of Los Deliveristas Unidos — an advocacy group representing delivery workers in New York City. The group successfully pushed for a significant minimum wage hike for delivery workers in the city, but app companies are trying to block it through litigation. (Photo: Courtesy of William Medina)

WILLIAMSBURG — A new law in New York City to pay delivery workers nearly $18 per hour was supposed to go into effect last month, but app companies have sued to prevent the wage hike.

UberEats, DoorDash, Grubhub, and a newer company, New York-based Relay, each filed requests for injunctions several days before the new minimum wage increase was to launch on July 12. 

The measure would force companies to pay workers $17.96 per hour or an equivalent rate per delivery. According to the city, the workers currently make about $11 per hour, where the minimum wage for other workers is around $15.

In his 1991 encyclical, “Centesimus Annus,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice.”

He further wrote, “In determining fair pay, both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account.”

In this minimum wage case, the determination will be made by a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan, who heard arguments in the case on Aug. 3. A decision could come by month’s end.

Delivery worker William Medina, 38, said he and his fellow deliverers expected the companies would sue to stop the wage.

I feel a little bit frustrated,” Medina said. “But the companies, they don’t provide health insurance, no medical, nothing. They don’t care about us.”

An estimated 65,000 of these bike-and-scooter-riding workers operate in the city. Many of them organized the advocacy group, Los Deliveristas Unidos, with help from the Workers Justice Project based in Williamsburg.

Medina is from Bogota, Colombia. He has been a rider in the city for five years. For the past two years he worked with Los Deliveristas Unidos in the push for a new minimum wage.

The new rate, according to the law, will grow to $20 per hour in 2025. But app companies argued that rate hikes would force them to charge customers more.

In a statement, DoorDash claimed its court action is intended to protect everyone involved in the industry, including customers and the delivery workers. The company accused the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection of relying on flawed data to devise the new rate.

According to DoorDash, the increased wage, “will inevitably mean less revenue for local businesses and fewer earning opportunities for workers.”

“These are impacts,” the company said, “that will often be felt by those who can least afford them: busy families who depend on the accessibility and convenience of delivery, small restaurants working tirelessly to grow their businesses, or delivery workers seeking opportunities for extra income to make ends meet.”

Deliveristas are considered independent contractors who pay for their own bikes. If they ride scooters, they must supply their own fuel, oil, and other parts, like brake pads.

Medina rides a Yamaha Zuma 125, which cost him about $3,500. He used to ride regular bikes and then electric bikes. But during the pandemic, riders were tasked to make longer deliveries.

A scooter or motorcycle helps them make deliveries faster and enables them to boost the numbers of deliveries. Medina said a good day for him is 30-40 deliveries, but that usually takes about 10-14 hours a day, and he works seven days a week.

“Imagine,” he said, “we have to work in extreme weather, like in the wintertime. And we worked during the pandemic. Some of our co-workers died in accidents. So it is really difficult to do the job.”

Medina is married to a woman from Russia, and they have no children. 

Like many workers, he sends money home to his parents. He said the Los Deliveristas comprise riders from all over the world who stand in solidarity, awaiting the judge’s decision.

“I know people from El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Bangladesh, China, even Nepal,” Medina said. “We are a brotherhood.”