Working-Class Voices: First Person Accounts of Life and Work

In Harm’s Way: Delivery Workers Fight the Apps

Editor’s Note
For this article, New Labor Forum’s Working-Class Voices columnist Kressent Pottenger interviewed two women who are members of Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU): Ernesta Galvez, a deliverworker of seven years and an LDU leader, and Hildalyn Colón Hernández, Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at LDU. Hildalyn also served as a translator for this interview.

Ernesta Galvez: I make deliveries in Manhattan, all over the boroughs, starting from 14th street. I got into this profession because the hours allowed me to have a bit more flexibility to be a mother. I drop my son off at school and work until I pick him up. Then I pick him up from school and go back to work in the evening. When I became a delivery worker, there was paperwork, an office to go to, and they talked to you a bit. That has disappeared with the use of apps. I do not work for a restaurant, I work for an app. Now, you just download the apps and apply online. You get a time to pick up a delivery in a particular restaurant. The app companies present it like we are our own bosses, but we are far from that. The reality is that the apps determine our work schedule, and all of our lives. For example, apps can deactivate your delivery worker account with no questions asked; they can decide how much or how little you work, and the time frame of how many hours you have available to work. I work for a company that pays an hourly rate of $12.50 plus tips. Other apps, such as Uber or GrubHub, usually pay by delivery at a rate of $2 an hour. So, if a delivery worker wanted to earn $12.50, they would have to be paid the remaining amount in tips. App companies do not clearly explain gratuity policies. Our industry classifies us as independent contractors, and we have to cover every expense that is related to our job: bike, phone, gloves, bags, insulated heaters, especially now that the winter is coming. I have paid eight thousand to ten  thousand dollars annually in expenses. We usually ride many miles daily to make deliveries.

Our industry classifies us as independent contractors, and we have to cover every expense that is related to our job: bike, phone, gloves, bags, insulated heaters. . . .

I have worked during extreme weather conditions: I have crashed in the snow and ice when it was too slippery to travel; or my electric bike motor stops working in the rain. We have many accidents with cars. The restaurants installed sheds during Covid-19 for outdoor dining, and a lot of them are installed on bike lanes. I have fallen, biking through the cars to get back to the protected bike lanes. Delivery workers also experience assaults, and our bikes or mopeds are being stolen. The majority of the workers that I see on the street have e-bikes; I see more mopeds in Queens. In Midtown, you will see some motorcycles, but not many. I was in an accident recently, and I have seen many women in accidents, which can be a real problem for us. As a woman delivery worker, we are really careful. Many of us are single and have to take care of the family. If we are not sustaining the family, who will? So, women delivery workers are very conscientious  about the rules of the road. It is important that the bike lanes stay clear because that can be life or death. In New York City, space is limited and whatever parking space you can get is meaningful. But for us, this means life or death. Car drivers are not very conscious about double parking. That puts us at a high risk because we have to go out into car traffic.

. . . Los Deliveristas Unidos passed the App Delivery Worker Rights bills in New York City . . . . six bills that address issues like tip transparency and minimum pay.

Delivery workers are like a ghost to the app companies. They have customer service for delivery workers, but the service does not answer to us or resolve problems we are dealing with. This is a constant problem that workers experience. Customer ratings have an impact on our job. For many of us, it involves deactivation and not being able to work. If I bring a customer their food late, many times it is not our fault. Maybe the restaurant made a mistake on the order, and that caused a delay in delivery. On the app, the customer would say, well she was late. The app will make a determination and say it was her fault. It will deactivate her or put her on hold so that she can’t actually request a specific time frame to work. We are so trustful of the apps. Yet, we’re always at the mercy of the app. There is a lack of transparency. The apps will not give you an explanation or say why something happened. Let’s say I deliver to your home. You give me five dollars as a tip through the app, but the app says zero. The customer will ask, hey I gave you a tip; can you please check? The worker does not find the tip. Some workers call the company to find out. Otherwise, the app keeps the money. You are not allowed to ask the customer for tips; but you are not asking, you are just trying to understand what happened. There are two outcomes: either the app kept it, or the restaurant kept it. If the company does not like how you fight it, because you are actually exposing the issue, you can get deactivated. We have seen many times that the app does not give accurate information. We trust the apps to give say 10 percent to the workers, but in reality that is not what happens. It is better to tip with cash. Another alternative is to write down the tip on the receipt. Workers know certain restaurants do not give tips. There are no benefits, no paid time off, and no sick days. We were not given personal protective equipment (PPE) during Covid-19. We have been organizing and fighting for this. [As a result of LDU efforts, New York City is creating a network of rest hubs that will be available to sixty-five thousand delivery workers across all five boroughs.][1]

Hildalyn Colón Hernández: Last year Los Deliveristas Unidos passed the App Delivery Worker Rights bills in New York City. It was six bills that address issues like tip transparency and minimum pay. Minimum pay is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2023. [The City of New York has proposed a minimum of $23.82. At this writing, a public hearing on this proposal has been scheduled.] We started to deal with the miles traveled and assignments. However, the bills do not cover all the issues. It will require much more to address the situation of benefits. The app company says we are independent contractors, but that’s a big debate. We are fighting for app companies to be responsible for working conditions. The classification of independent contractors  is not a blank check. The idea that you are an independent contractor does not mean the app company is not responsible for anything. That is our belief. DoorDash was very quick to say they offer some benefits to workers. But, it is more that they treat delivery workers as potential customers because they have made deals with companies to offer promotions. But what is the point if the workers cannot afford it? It does not cover the necessities that they need.

Worker organizing drives have raised issues of safety, too. After workers organized, when they were assaulted or their bike was stolen, the company started to say they would offer certain protections. DoorDash announced they would put a button on the app to call 911. But the workers already have a phone to call 911. We do not need a special feature for that. I think that shows you how the company uses worker safety as a public relations stunt. This is why workers want to pass laws. Laws have to be applied. It does not matter who you are.

There are delivery workers from all over the world: Bangladesh, West Africa, Asia, Mexico, Ecuador . . . Only four percent . . . . are women.

What delivery workers like Ernesta have accomplished is to demystify the idea that workers who are classified as independent contractors—who are working for the app companies across the country—cannot achieve labor rights. That is not true. The companies have told us for years if you are classified as an independent contractor, you are on your own. Workers who are independent contractors could and should have rights. In addition to establishing a minimum rate of pay and tip transparency, the legislation we achieved established a basic minimum standard: bathroom access, limits on mileage, and a law in New York City that obligates app companies to show the portion that the apps pay and the tip amount that the worker will obtain from the client. As Ernesta said, if deliveristas are their own bosses, they should determine how far they want to travel. The other portion of the bill is that the company should provide basic minimum tools for the job, like delivery bags. But the big one is minimum pay effective from January 1, 2023. This is a major victory, the first of its kind in the country. Deliveristas are workers; they work for the app companies. That is millions of people across the country across industries. As a human being, there should be basic minimum rights. Your classification does not matter.

Ernesta: I got involved in LDU after following them on social media. I was contacted by an organizer, and he shared his experience. I was encouraged to get involved. There are delivery workers from all over the world: Bangladesh, West Africa, Asia, Mexico, and Ecuador, and they tend to be more men than women. [Only four percent of delivery workers are women.][2]

I am the only woman in the group currently, but I am organizing a committee of women deliveristas for LDU. Part of what we do is generate camaraderie and education. For example, there are a lot of new people becoming delivery workers. They do not know the rules of the road. We reach out to new people. We can spot them. We will reach out and give them that basic orientation. Sometimes workers are frustrated, but in the end the organizing pays off. This is how we help each other. Learning from one another and sharing information with each other. The fight to become a union, have benefits, respect on the street, and have minimum pay is our most important campaign. We do not have benefits or labor rights. That is what we are fighting for.

The public can support our organizing efforts by donating funds which we use [for] bike tune- ups . . . [and to] provide . . . safety equipment that [deliveristas] desperately need.

Hildalyn: LDU offers a bit of everything. Many workers who want to work in this industry do not understand what it means to be an independent contractor; they don’t even know the bike requirements. We give them education. Ernesta gets a lot of credit for that. Thanks to her, LDU has already opened doors to help others navigate this. How do we support these workers? LDU has been doing it. It is a total game changer. When workers are just starting, they need to know things like, how to get paid? Or what kind of bike do you buy? For example, to ride a moped in New York City you need to have it certified by the Department of Transportation. A lot of these workers come to our office with multiple traffic or parking tickets, and they are frustrated. Why did I get five tickets? We say here are the reasons you got five tickets. We start the process of what you got yourself into as a delivery worker: let me walk you through what having a moped or a bike means. The app company is the employer. We do not want the employer to explain all of it. The employer does not want us to organize. Everything for these companies is a press release.

Ernesta: Delivery workers were recently featured in an exhibition—“Food in New York: Bigger than the Plate”—at the Museum of the City of New York. I felt very proud of how much LDU achieved to be recognized in such an important museum. It is a great joy for me and my fellow workers to have this experience. We never even thought about such a thing. It will definitely help in raising consciousness about who we are and what we are trying to accomplish. The public can support our organizing efforts by donating funds that we use to organize bike tune-ups for our colleagues or to provide them with some of the safety equipment that they desperately need. On the street, keep reaching out to the workers. Support our efforts and our journey to seek justice.  It takes everybody to help us to get there.

1. Isabel Song Beer, “NYC Creating Rest Hubs for Food Delivery Workers across the Five Boroughs,” amNY, October 3, 2022, available at
2. This report contains the findings from a participatory action research project that examined the working and living conditions of delivery workers engaged by digital platforms (also known as apps) to deliver restaurant food orders to consumers in New York. Maria Figueroa, Ligia Guallpa, Andrew Wolf, Glendy Tsitouras, and Hildalyn Colón Hernández, “Essential But Unprotected: App-Based Food Couriers in New York City,” ILR Worker Institute, September 13, 2021, available at

Author Biography
Kressent Pottenger holds an MA in Labor Studies from the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies at CUNY and was awarded the SEIU 925 Research  Fellowship by Wayne State University in 2012. She is currently working on a research project about 925 and women organizing in the workplace.