Following a string of e-bike robberies in the spring, Gustavo Ajche, a delivery worker from Guatemala, was messaging his fellow deliveristas in a WhatsApp group chat of workers in their neighborhood about how they could protect one another (those bikes, which they have to pay for themselves, can cost up to $2,000). The conversation shifted to how their already poor working conditions had worsened during the pandemic: a lack of PPE, nowhere to take breaks during lockdown, and meager pay. For these workers — who are considered independent contractors and sometimes paid below minimum wage — determining one’s take-home pay is often a confusing endeavor, as earnings vary wildly for each service: DoorDash lists its base pay as a range from $2 to about $10 per order (though some workers claim they often make more like $4), Relay’s base rate is roughly $11.80 per hour, and Grubhub uses a complicated calculation based on time spent and miles traveled. At times, between waiting at the restaurant and having to bike up to 70 blocks to bring food to diners’ doors, workers can spend an entire hour completing a single order. “I have to support my wife, my son, and another baby on the way. I worry if I get sick,” says Jonán Huerta, a deliverista from Mexico. “Who’s going to help me with my rent? There’s no support.”
“We take care of each other. We’ve created our own network,” Ajche says in Spanish. He originally went to the Worker’s Justice Project (he’s a longtime member) in search of financial support for workers who were struggling, but he ended up with a broader organizing plan — and Los Deliveristas Unidos was born. Ajche, Huerta, and their fellow immigrant workers pictured here are among the estimated 80,000 deliveristas in the city right now, a number that has grown as unemployed members of the restaurant and hospitality industries have turned to delivery apps to survive. On October 15, this group and close to a thousand others protested for the first time to demand better pay and improved worker protections. Together, they rode from 72nd Street down to City Hall, chanting “Sin nosotros, nadie come” (“Without us, no one eats”). Following reports of these organizing efforts, DoorDash announced on December 16 that it’s taking measures to improve deliveristas’ working conditions, including providing free reflective gear and getting almost 200 restaurants to agree to make their restrooms available to workers. But, according to The City, New York City couriers weren’t consulted, and some remain skeptical about the changes.
Now that winter has arrived and indoor dining is again shut down, they’re once more being called to the front lines. “After eight months without economic relief and working under inhumane conditions, we are tired,” Huerta says. “It’s time to raise our voices.”
*A version of this article appears in the December 21, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!