Big Tech-Backed Gig Worker Union Bill Fails to Get in Gear in Albany

A plan to grant app-based gig workers some bargaining rights is dead in the state Legislature — even as the City Council held a hearing Tuesday on measures to improve working conditions for New Yorkers who deliver food.

The gig worker proposal, which initially garnered some support from organized labor, collapsed under scrutiny before a bill could be introduced in Albany. State lawmakers are slated to conclude this year’s legislative session on Thursday, with no bill introduced by the Monday evening deadline.

The proposal would have granted workers for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash some bargaining power despite not being classified as employees entitled to certain rights. The effort failed to gain steam as pushback from food delivery workers and their advocates knocked out some early backing from organized labor.

Among the opposition’s concerns: The industry-backed proposal would have conceded some key rights — including the ability to strike or demonstrate against a company. The measure also would have overridden local wins for gig workers — including some of the proposals being considered by the City Council.

“DoorDash, Uber, Seamless, GrubHub and other delivery apps have schemed to introduce legislation behind the backs of these workers,” said State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens), who chairs the Senate’s labor committee. 

“They want to amend our state labor laws to support their rights on the job under the guise of collective bargaining. One of the most egregious parts of the so-called Right to Bargain bill is that it undercuts delivery workers’ local organizing efforts,” she added.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island, Brooklyn), who had been drafting the measure, told Bloomberg News that she plans on revisiting the topic next year when the Legislature returns. 

“It’s a complicated problem, but the only way we’re going to get to a solution is people are going to have to put aside their own agendas and figure out ‘how do we solve it?’” said Savino, who told THE CITY she was not available to comment. 

‘Treated with Hostility’

Meanwhile, the City Council held a hearing Tuesday on a package of bills that aim to improve working conditions for the burgeoning app-based food delivery sector. 

The proposals look to boost wages, ensure tips get to delivery workers and set limits on where they can deliver — local regulations that would be barred under the draft state bill that circulated among lawmakers, tech companies and labor unions last month. 

Many items in the City Council’s seven-bill package were introduced in late April following months of discussions with Los Deliveristas Unidos. The group of mostly immigrant food couriers toiled for months during the pandemic with little access to bathrooms or to shelter — and without much recourse against tech companies. 

“On average, a delivery worker works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, earning a grand total of $300. That is less than $4 an hour. When they need to take a break or use the restroom, they are denied basic courtesy and treated with hostility by some of the very same restaurants kept open by their labor,” said Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), who is pushing a bill that would fine restaurants and bars that refuse to allow delivery workers to use the restroom. 

Other proposed measures would require that companies provide workers with insulated bags at no cost and direct the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to study the working conditions of food delivery workers so it can come up with rules for minimum payments to workers. 

While generally supportive of the measures, the department’s acting commissioner, Sandra Abeles, expressed concerns in testimony at Tuesday’s hearing that multi-billion dollar tech companies would find loopholes in the proposed regulations “if enforcement is not carefully constructed.”

Although Council members had been told that representatives from the food delivery companies would be testifying at the virtual hearing, none did.

In a statement, San Francisco-based DoorDash said the company was “actively engaging” with workers and “eager to engage with policymakers on ways all stakeholders can better support New York City delivery workers.”

Uber, which runs UberEats, did not respond to a request for comment. 

‘A Very Important Day’

In his testimony before the Council on Thursday, Los Deliveristas Unidos leader Sergio Ajche called the hearing “a very important day” for the city’s delivery workers.

“It’s time for the city to recognize us as essential workers not just with words, but with actions,” he said, reading aloud from his testimony in Spanish.

“It’s frustrating to see these apps make our tips disappear and the restaurant industry turn its back on us,” he added. “It hurts to see clients’ gratuities out of reach to those of us risking our lives in the streets. I know many hesitate to call out these injustices out of fear, but we are here today to make our situations with these apps visible.”

Although Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) was quoted in a Deliveristas press release supporting the workers, a spokesperson for the Council leader did not immediately respond to questions on whether he would bring the bills to a vote. 

“Deliveristas risk their lives to bring food to our doors, a service so many of us depended on during the pandemic. They were there for us, now we need to be there for them. Deliveristas deserve better, more fair treatment, and the Council’s legislative package will help them get the protections they need as they continue to serve our city,” Johnson said in the press release. 

‘It’s Not Right’

At a rally before the hearing, workers gathered with supporters from the union 32BJ SEIU and Transport Workers Union Local 100 at City Hall Park to urge the Council to pass the bills.

In testimony, workers described getting shortchanged by the apps and accused the platforms of withholding the tips many workers depend on in order to earn livable wages. One of the bills discussed at the hearing, introduced by Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), would establish minimum per-trip payments, excluding tips, to ensure workers earn an hourly amount equal to the $15 minimum wage.

Los Deliveristas Unidos leader Jonán Huerta spoke on behalf of a Relay delivery worker who charges the app “stole” a $9.60 tip sent by a customer last month. 

At the rally, Huerta read from the testimony submitted by Manhattan delivery worker Gustavo Mancilla, who said a customer’s $9.60 tip never made it to his account.

“When I handed him the food, he asked me immediately if I had received his tip; I immediately checked my balance on the app and saw I had $0. The client showed me their receipt and I saw that he paid a $9.60 tip, for which I received $0,” according to the testimony in Spanish. THE CITY reviewed copies of those receipts.

“When I submitted a complaint, the app blamed the restaurant and refused to give me any further explanation,” Mancilla wrote in his testimony, which was submitted to the Council.

A spokesperson for Relay was not immediately available for comment.

“The f**king restaurant kept my tip,” Mancilla wrote in a text message in Spanish on the day of the incident.

At the rally, Lander said: “Apps like Doordash, Seamless, Instacart and UberEats exploit the idea that these workers are independent contractors,” leaving them to earn on average $5 an hour in New York City.

“These are not folks on a side-hustle,” Lander said. “These are folks working full-time every day and they deserve full-time, more-than-a-minimum-wage, living-wage pay.”

At the hearing, Ajche testified that in the summer months, he has earned just $30 for a 13-hour work day. “These applications work the algorithm to their benefit. They don’t care about our lives out in the streets and the conditions we have to work through,” he testified in Spanish.

Some workers, like 22-year-old Pépé Jhonson, described being brushed off by restaurants that refused bathroom access, an issue Rivera’s bill would address.

“As a woman, one of the hardest things about doing this job is not being able to use the bathroom,” Jhonson, a native of Togo, said in Spanish. “I work 12 to 16 hour days, sometimes biking 10 miles for a single delivery, only for restaurants to tell me I can’t relieve myself. 

“It’s not right.”

This article was originally posted on Big Tech-Backed Gig Worker Union Bill Fails to Get in Gear in Albany

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