News

NYC delivery drivers win right to use restaurant bathrooms while working

Food delivery drivers in New York City have received landmark rights to use restaurant bathrooms while working.

It sounds ludicrous that the legal right to access bathrooms during work hours has been hailed as a ‘landmark bill’ in 2021. However, that’s exactly what gig workers in New York City have been fighting for and have finally achieved.

The historic bill is the first of its kind and addresses a major failing that has impacted the city’s 65,000 gig workers. It guarantees bathroom access to food delivery workers who have previously had nowhere to pee on the job.

Delivery workers win
image: Los Deliveristas Unidos

New York City council members voted to pass the bill, assuring legal bathroom access at restaurants where workers pick up food and beverages.

The legislation comes as a huge relief to workers who have had to adapt to increasingly harsh time constraints and performance expectations.

With such strict conditions, and restaurants routinely denying access to their facilities, workers have been forced to relieve themselves in bushes, behind bins, in bottles and bags. This might be a novelty if you’ve had too much to drink on a picnic, but not so much when you’re on the clock day-in-day-out, providing an essential service.

The pandemic shifted demand from dine-in to delivery, forcing workers to adapt to and tolerate an influx of unacceptable standards.

With no formal legislation or legal protection until now, delivery drivers found themselves in a no-man’s-land. Seen as independent contractors to the apps, affiliates of the apps to restaurants, and representatives of whatever restaurant a customer orders from, the workers have been forced to unite in order to survive.

A report released in September, conducted by advocacy group Worker’s Justice Project in partnership with Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, detailed the “highly unstable” conditions in the industry.

The report found that “Even including tips, the hourly net pay is $12.21 below NY’s $15 minimum wage.”

It’s the underground efforts of the workers that have underpinned the reputation of boundless delivery platforms.

Adopting electric bikes to complete more deliveries, faster repair networks to stay on the road longer, shelters to rest and recharge batteries without having to commute back homes. All of these problems have been solved by the workers, and all have ultimately benefited the apps that fail to offer them protection.

Sparked by an uptick in the thefts of bikes in the last year, workers began organising, protesting, and lobbying for legislation that would protect them and bolster their legal rights.

Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU), a collective of mostly immigrant app delivery workers who are fighting for justice, organised a rally 2,000 strong in April to advocate for workers’ rights.

Their efforts have gained traction, with legislation also passing this week that guarantees minimum pay per trip, along with limits on how far workers can be asked to deliver, and measures to ensure tips are paid in full.

This offers hope for delivery workers worldwide who are also fighting for increased protections and workers’ rights.