Under the cover of Internet invisibility, companies around the globe are using online gig platforms to break labor laws and violate human rights. The so-called gig economy (more akin to digital piecework) is exacerbating poverty and inequality, particularly in the Global South, by circumventing existing labor standards and imposing harsh working conditions and low wages on millions of workers. I was one of those workers, and I was recently fired, after seven years, for speaking up. I had been working as a researcher at the New York-based company Ask Wonder in order to supplement my income as a freelance journalist in Mexico.
In recent months, stories of rideshare drivers and delivery workers carjacked, robbed, or even killed on the job have made headlines around the country. Now, growing research shows that there is an all-out crisis in app-based work. This May, Gig Workers Rising, PowerSwitch Action, and ACRE released new research that suggests the safety crisis among app workers — especially app workers of color — is escalating. They found that in 2022, at least 31 app workers — three-quarters of them people of color — were murdered while working. That’s more app workers murdered than we have been able to identify in any prior year.
A slate of city laws for delivery workers is set to kick in the new year and will roll out in stages, commencing in January with more oversight of the delivery apps and increased transparency for the more than 65,000 delivery workers in New York City. Starting next month, delivery apps must be licensed by the city to operate in the five boroughs. By January 24th, licensed apps that take customer orders directly will be required to notify delivery workers how much each customer tips for each delivery, and the total pay and tips for the previous day. The city will now require that restaurants provide the delivery workers with better access to restrooms.
Sometimes change comes from the most unlikely of places. The European Commission—the unelected body of technocrats that designs European Union legislation—isn’t exactly known as a friend of the worker. EU commissioners and their staff are more likely to be found having coffee with corporate lobbyists than rubbing shoulders with the working class. Yet, last week, the EU Commission proposed what some are hailing as the most pro-worker reform to come out of the EU in years—a directive to regulate platform work. Often unfairly treated as self-employed, platform workers are now to be considered employees and thus entitled to the labor rights that are standard for most workers in Europe.
On most days, Doug Ford’s Conservative government in Ontario does not respond well to problems, or it actively makes things worse. If an election had been called a year-and-a-half ago, Ford would have lost. However, when COVID hit, Ford nearly brought Ontario to its knees. Nevertheless, he managed to deceive some into thinking he managed well. Today, he is barely visible, having prorogued Queen’s Park during September’s federal election to protect his federal Conservative counterparts instead of stepping up to protect Ontarians and help guide our recovery. Schools are suffering, hospitals and healthcare workers are short-staffed and stressed. Many Ontarians are ashamed that Ford did not declare September 30th a statutory holiday to remember the colonial impact of residential schools.
This past July, Singh was on a midnight run, biking a chocolate mousse cake 7 kilometers across Mumbai, when he was rammed by a drunk driver on a scooter from behind. He got off with a few scratches and sprains, but his bike was badly smashed up. The cost of fixing it — 14,000 rupees ($189) — is about what he takes home in a month working for Zomato, the Indian food and grocery delivery app. So for the last month, he’s been fixing it up a bit at a time whenever he can get the money together. Singh, in his 40s, speaks in long, flowing sentences peppered with literary references and fatalistic humor. He began riding for Zomato in 2020 after struggling to find work in India’s shrinking job market. “I googled ‘jobs I can find today,’” he told Rest of World.
New York City's 65,000+ food delivery workers were celebrated as essential workers throughout the pandemic. But according to a damning new study, they aren't actually being treated that way—instead, they routinely earn low wages well below New York's minimum wage, lack basic labor and employment protections, and face dangerous working conditions on the streets of NYC. The report released this week, which was conducted by advocacy group Worker’s Justice Project in partnership with Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, is a four-month-long survey (December 2020-April 2021) of 500 app-based workers throughout the five boroughs, many of whom work for the likes of Grubhub, Doordash and UberEats.
For the past 5 years, shoppers have repeatedly sounded the alarm regarding Instacart’s misappropriation of tips, theft of tips, unsafe working conditions, continuous and increasingly devastating pay cuts, and more. Instacart responded by completely ignoring the concerns of its shoppers, retaliating against shoppers for speaking out, or offering extremely minimal tokens of appeasement accompanied by insincere apologies for its actions. In July, shoppers’ were optimistic for better treatment when Instacart hired a new CEO, Fidji Simo. That optimism, however, was short-lived, and it has become abundantly clear that Instacart remains true to its morally corrupt nature and will never do right by its shoppers.
More than 2,000 food couriers snarled traffic in Times Square through pouring rain in protest April 21 demanding better working conditions and protection from violent assaults. The mass demonstration was organized by Los Deliveristas Unidos, a loose network of immigrant gig workers that was born in the strife of the pandemic last year through online chat groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram. Since then, Los Deliveristas have coalesced into an organization with support from the Brooklyn-based Worker’s Justice Project (WJP), a worker center that organizes immigrants in construction and service sector jobs. WJP has received backing from Service Employees Local 32BJ. Learn more about Los Deliveristas in our June cover story, “Can a Driver Uprising Make Food Apps Deliver?”
The thank-you banners are down, but New York City residents have a real opportunity to show their appreciation for a population of low-paid, primarily immigrant frontline workers. New York City residents can help now by ditching Uber and Lyft for a competing driver-owned alternative app called “Co-op Ride,” created by the mostly volunteer-run Drivers Cooperative. If Co-op’s proposal plays out, drivers could make more money while their passengers, particularly those in underserved communities, could end up paying less for rides. Launched this past weekend and now available to New York City residents ****in the App Store and Google Play, Co-op Ride is a cooperative, driver-owned business.
New York - An effort backed by the New York State AFL-CIO would create a new bargaining scheme for app-based workers without addressing the question of whether or not these workers are legally “employees.” Labor Notes obtained a draft version of the legislation that is being negotiated by unions and app employers. Workers for apps like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash are currently considered independent contractors; most in the labor movement consider them misclassified, a tactic the companies use to avoid paying the full cost of benefits. These workers are blocked from unionizing by antitrust laws, and don’t have the protection of the National Labor Relations Board (or many other protections).
On February 22, 2019, at 6 pm, a car crashed into Servio Hernández’s motorcycle. Hernández, a Venezuelan migrant in Chile, was hit while he was in the middle of making a delivery for PedidosYa, a branch of the German multinational company Delivery Hero. When Hernández arrived at the hospital, the first thing he did was ask the medical staff to let his supervisor know about the accident. “There is nothing we can do for him,” the supervisor told the doctor. The supervisor turned off his phone and blocked Hernández from being able to access the PedidosYa app. Servio Hernández is one of the millions of workers around the world, from Chile to South Korea, who hustle to deliver food and other products to people’s homes.
The huge upswing in worker organizing in 2020 often had union support, but with an experimental twist. Over the first few months of the COVID-19 epidemic, workers from bridal shops to pizza places to supermarkets were organizing to get Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and winning. They used tools like the coworker.org site, which helps anyone start up a petition in their workplace and make demands. Groups like the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC), a project of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the United Electrical Workers Union (UE) supported those workers taking independent action. EWOC provides a sophisticated intake system combined with veteran labor movement coaches to support workers winning their demands.
Amazon will pay more than $61.7 million to Flex drivers from whom it withheld the full amount of customer tips to settle a Federal Trade Commission investigation. The settlement comes nearly two years after the Los Angeles Times first exposed that Amazon was dipping into customer tips to cover the base pay guaranteed to Flex drivers, who deliver Amazon Fresh, Prime Now and other orders. The money will reimburse Flex drivers whose tips Amazon withheld over the last 2½ years, according to the FTC. Until August 2019, Amazon promised Flex drivers a guaranteed minimum base pay for each order, which the e-commerce company said included 100% of customer tips.
The official unemployment rate now stands at 6.7%. But that doesn’t feel right, does it? Unless you live in a gated community, the reality on the ground feels more dire and more destitute. Behind that cheery 6.7% stand millions of uncounted people – uncounted by design. “’Underemployed’ would be the most accurate, but there’s not really a good definition,” A.K. says, responding to my question of how he would identify his employment status. “As a freelancer, we’re put aside to kind of fend for ourselves, even before all this.” He’s a freelance cinematographer and the owner of a production company. Now he’s working a part-time minimum wage job and getting production gigs where he can, a prospect that demands he put his health at risk to show up for in-person gigs.