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What should minimum pay be for workers who deliver food for apps? NYC can't agree

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A dramatic fight is brewing in New York City over a basic question. What should the minimum pay be for workers who deliver food for apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash? The answer turns out to be far from clear, as NPR's Dara Kerr reports.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Around a hundred people raised their hands to speak in a public hearing that spanned more than four hours on Friday. The majority of them were delivery workers who've organized under a group called Los Deliveristas Unidos, the United Delivery Workers. William Medina spoke about the harsh conditions they face trying to get people food.

WILLIAM MEDINA: (Speaking Spanish).

KERR: He said he feels exposed and vulnerable on the street, risking his life either in traffic accidents or being robbed. These workers earn an average of $11 an hour, and that's including tips. It's far less than the city's minimum wage. So in 2021, the city passed a law that would give these workers a minimum pay. It estimated that it should be nearly $24 an hour to factor in for things like gas and waiting for food. Anthony Capote, an analyst for the Immigration Research Initiative, says the way companies pay the workers now, which is just for each delivery, is predatory.

ANTHONY CAPOTE: But it also encourages workers to go out under the most dangerous circumstances - during snowstorms, flash floods, heat waves - because that's when they know that they can get the most orders.

KERR: After months of fighting and lobbying, the city cut the proposed amount to around $19 an hour. Workers and some lawmakers accused it of bowing to pressure from the gig companies. At Friday's hearing, the company said an hourly minimum wage could push costs up for everybody, leading to fewer orders and less work for delivery people. In comments to NPR, GrubHub, DoorDash and Uber said the rule would restrict worker flexibility. But Antonio Solis, a leader of Los Deliveristas Unidos, said workers should get a fair wage.

ANTONIO SOLIS: (Speaking Spanish).

KERR: He says they work 12 to 13 hours a day just to be able to afford a little. Now it's up to New York City's leaders to decide. Dara Kerr, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIKELI47 SONG, "MONEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.