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Riding for a Living, and for Respect


Manny Ramirez’s workday begins with breakfast, runs through lunch, and ends with dinner—other people’s breakfasts, lunches and dinners. 

The 34-year-old married father of five is typically on his electric bike at 9 in the morning and doesn’t get back to his Bronx home until well past 10 at night.

By then, he will have traveled 80 miles and made 45 deliveries in and around Morningside Heights in Manhattan. He does so six days a week, taking orders on his portable phone from any one of several food-delivery applications doing business in the city. “Our days end when dinners end,” he said.

‘All My Work Is in The Streets’

Mr. Ramirez, an organizer with Los Deliveristas Unidos, a collective of mostly immigrant app-delivery workers, spends nearly all of those days outside. That means contending with all manner of weather, people and vehicles. 

“It’s very difficult,” he said, and particularly so in the last year, when he became his family’s sole earner when his wife, herself a deliverista, became pregnant with the couple’s fifth child. He also was twice hit by cars. Although not badly hurt, he bore the cost of repairs to his bikes. “Basically, all my work is on the streets, so we don't have any place to just take lunch or rest or things like that,” he said.  

A few of our stories and columns are now in front of the paywall. We at The Chief-Leader remain committed to independent reporting on labor and civil service. It's been our mission since 1897. You can have a hand in ensuring that our reporting remains relevant in the decades to come. Consider supporting The Chief, which you can do for as little as $2.25 a month.

Mr. Ramirez, who immigrated to New York City from Mexico City 15 years ago, earned his keep in restaurant kitchens before trading his chef’s knife for a two-wheeler five years ago. 

For all the challenges, he said that working as a deliverista gives him more autonomy. “Always, when I was working in the restaurant I never had the chance to bring my child to the doctor, or to go to parent-teacher conferences,” he said. He also missed spending birthdays and holidays with his family. “I have less money, but I have more independence,” he said. 

Few Protections

Up until this year, Mr. Ramirez and the roughly 65,000 other delivery workers who course through the five boroughs did so to earn what a recent survey estimated was an average of $12.21 an hour, including tips, with few employee protections. 

But following a massive organizing effort by the delivery workers, the City Council in September approved a flurry of bills addressing their working conditions

And beginning next year, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection will be required to conduct a study to figure out how much delivery workers must be paid for their work.

Another bill is one intended to make the tip mechanism more transparent, in part by better informing workers as well as customers how gratuities contribute to overall pay.

Another piece of legislation gave deliveristas better access to restaurant bathrooms during their shifts. And yet another gave the workers the option to take only those delivery trips they think are “safe and worthwhile,” and to set the parameters they are willing to travel. 

Almost absurdly, a separate Council bill spelled out that delivery apps cannot charge the workers for paying them. 

14 Killed in 2021

“Most of all the proposals that we put out are basically workers’ ideas. They are leading this campaign, they’re leading this discussion, they’re leading themselves,” said Hildalyn Colón Hernández, the director of Policy & Strategic Partnerships with the city-based Workers Justice Project, which advocates for low-wage, immigrant workers and of which Los Deliveristas Unidos is one organizing arm.  

Still, she said, the Council’s legislation won’t address all of the outstanding issues in what is a nascent industry, one that attracted a significant profile because of the delivery workers’ outsize role during the pandemic. 

There are “complicated situations” that still need addressing, including compensation when workers are injured on the job or even killed. In 2021 alone, 14 delivery workers were killed while working, including two on the Upper East Side in December. 

Salvador Navarrete Flores, 31, died Dec. 13 after slamming into what reports said was an illegally parked truck on First Ave. near East 76th St. Taurino Rosendo Morales was killed on Christmas Eve after he and another man were run down by a delivery van at the intersection of Third Ave. and East 61st St.

The Road Ahead

Ms. Hernández said the organizing effort will continue to build what she called an “infrastructure” that allows workers otherwise considered independent contractors to have the benefits available to the city’s more-traditional employees, such as health care, disability insurance and other protections.

While she said the food delivery apps that govern takeout have to this point largely set parameters for the industry, they have also been willing to listen to workers’ concerns. “We do have a respectful relationship with the apps,” Ms. Hernández  said, alluding to what she called the big three—UberEats, Grubhub and DoorDash. 

A DoorDash spokesperson said the company endeavors to improve working conditions for delivery workers, including by facilitating access to what the company describes as affordable health, vision, dental and life insurance.The company also offers road safety gear, such as reflective arm bands, rain jackets, and bike-friendly phone mounts, some of it free, to what it calls "Dashers." It also takes "all appropriate actions" following an incident involving a Dasher or any other member of our community.

"We are actively engaged with the Dasher community and eager to work with policymakers and community partners on ways we can better support New York City delivery workers," the spokesperson said. All three apps supported the Council's legislation.

But all three of the companies have sued in Federal court, alleging that the city’s permanent capping of what the apps could charge restaurants (15 percent of the total order cost and 5 percent for other services) was unconstitutional. The city imposed the caps in May 2020, albeit temporarily, but made them permanent to facilitate what the legislation said was the restaurant industry's recovery.

The deliveristas have a notable backer in U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. In a short video posted online in November, he said he was intent on getting workers better wages and protection, including safer bike lanes to the deliveristas, and would attempt to do that through the Build Back Better bill and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

“It’s very hard work. It’s very dangerous work,” the Senator said before donning a bike helmet and black Los Deliveristas Unidos T-shirt, and making a delivery from a West Harlem cafe. 

“They’re essential workers,” he said of the deliveristas. 

‘One Long Year’ More 

Mr. Ramirez said the organizing efforts have been arduous. But what not so long ago was thought out of reach succeeded because of the commitment from his deliverista colleagues.  

“We are thinking that we have new rights in the next year, that we never had before in the five years I’ve been working on these streets,” he said in late December. 

But, he said, “There are more things that we need to conquer,” safer streets among them, chiefly through the installation of more bike lanes.

The deliveristas are seeing more cooperation from the NYPD when it comes to theft of their bikes, which has been on the increase. They also would like officers to dedicate more time investigating accidents involving injuries to the workers. “Those things can make a big difference, but right now we don’t have it,” he said. 

The relationship with the app companies themselves also needs addressing. Very often, delivery workers are decoupled from the apps without warning or explanation, Mr. Ramirez said. “That is frustrating for everyone who's working delivery,” he said. 

But until the city’s wage and other laws go into effect, he will keep putting 80 miles on his e-bike every day.

“Not yet,” he replied when asked if he could cut his workweek to 60 hours. “Maybe in 2023,” when the pay average is expected to increase for him and his 65,000 colleagues. “I’m going to wait one year, one long year.”


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