A delivery cyclist rides their bike through Times Square during the height of the pandemic in March of 2020.
Mamadou Kokeina has been a delivery cyclist in New York City since 2015, working for Uber Eats, GrubHub and DoorDash. Aside from the grueling hours, dangerous working conditions, and low wages, Kokeina said that one of the challenges of the job is being able to relieve himself while he's on the job.
"Most of us work full time, ten to twelve hours a day, and you need to use the bathroom," Kokeina said, describing a recent incident in which a restaurant he was delivering food for wouldn't let him use the restroom.
"Basically they say, it's only for customers. If you want, you can pay for something if you want to use it," Kokeina said. He said ended up peeing on the street between parked cars.
"It was very, very discomforting for me. You see somebody, if he needs the bathroom right now, and you don't allow him to use it, how you gonna feel?"
On Thursday, the City Council is introducing a package of six bills aimed at addressing some of the problems that the city's estimated 80,000 delivery workers, who are predominately immigrants of color, face every day, including one that would require restaurants to allow delivery workers to use their restrooms or face a fine.
Other proposals would require delivery apps to provide unbanked workers with a non-banking payment option, pay them once a week, and provide them with delivery bags, allow delivery workers to set a maximum delivery distance without incurring a penalty, and set a minimum per trip payment, excluding tips. One bill introduced last year, which would require businesses and restaurants to provide the city with a breakdown of how tips are distributed to workers, is being reintroduced.
Dozens of delivery workers who are members of the collective Los Deliveristas Unidos outside City Hall on Tuesday afternoon after a press conference announcing the new legislation.
East Village Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who is sponsoring the bathroom bill, said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that the legislation is a first step to set standards for an industry that saw extreme growth during the pandemic.
"We need apps to be providing free or incredibly subsidized e-bikes, we need our city agencies to provide real secure bike storage, and we need a public safety response that respects workers," Rivera said.
The legislation comes three weeks after Francisco Villalva, a 29-year-old delivery cyclist, was fatally shot in East Harlem while trying to fend off someone who was trying to steal his e-bike.
Maria Figueroa, the director of Labor and Policy Research at the Cornell University's Worker Institute, said that in a survey of 500 delivery workers citywide, 53% have been victims of bike robberies, and a third of those attacks involved physical violence; 45% of the workers also said they have experiences underpayment or nonpayment for a week's worth of work.
The survey also showed that 67% of the workers have been denied the use of a bathroom.
During an Upper West Side Community Board meeting earlier this month, several members of Community Board 7 criticized the bathroom bill.
"You can’t force a restaurateur to let someone use the bathroom if they’re opposed to it. The whole thing is asinine,” one member said, according to Streetsblog.
Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a group representing restaurant owners, said he was supportive of the bathroom bill, and that it was a "shame" that some restaurants had been barring the cyclists. "It’s a reasonable request so long as adequate protocols are in place to help ensure there isn’t an unnecessary disturbance to a restaurant’s operations," Rigie said in a statement.
The legislation continues the City Council's efforts to regulate the delivery app industry. Last year, the City Council capped the fees that the delivery companies could charge restaurants at 20% per order: 15% for delivery orders, 5% for all orders placed through the app. Some companies had been charging as much as 30%.
GrubHub is the largest of the delivery apps in New York City, with at least 50% of the market share for food deliveries, according to a recent analysis. The company also posted revenues of half a billion dollars in the last quarter of 2020, roughly 50% increase over 2019.
A spokesperson for GrubHub (which owns Seamless, MenuPages, and multiple other directory services) said in a statement, "The health, safety and success of delivery workers across NYC is critical to our business. We look forward to reviewing the proposals and continuing to work with the City Council and Mayor's Office on these important issues."
“DoorDash is constantly working to support Dashers and improve working conditions for all delivery workers, which is why last year we announced an industry-leading series of initiatives focused on strengthening safety, expanding restroom access, and protecting earnings," a spokesperson for the company, which also owns Caviar, wrote in an emailed statement. "These include providing free and discounted road safety equipment, identifying restrooms in hundreds of restaurants that Dashers can use when picking up an order, and providing Dashers with resources to reduce their expenses. We are actively engaged with the Dasher community and eager to engage with policymakers on ways all stakeholders can better support New York City delivery workers.”
Uber Eats (which owns Postmates) did not immediately respond to questions about whether they supported the package of legislation.
Over the last year, some of the city's delivery cyclist workforce came together to form Los Deliveristas Unidos, a collective that has held marches and rallies for better working conditions, with the help of the Workers Justice Project. New York's largest service workers union, SEIU 32BJ, which won higher wages for fast food workers, has also started to support the delivery cyclists.
"As a group, we can do much, you know? But when were separate we're not going to be able to do anything," said Kokeina, who represents African workers within Los Deliveristas Unidos. "I feel proud. If you win something, it's gonna be a benefit to every delivery person."