DoorDash said Monday it’s doing something different in New York City: It’s hiring about 60 delivery people as employees, rather than independent contractors. The couriers will travel by electric bicycle to make quick deliveries—within 10 to 15 minutes—in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. The service marks DoorDash’s first foray into a new category of “instant” app-enabled delivery. A handful of competing companies, including European-backed startups Gorillas, Buyk, and Jokr, have been operating in New York since late summer, and have also hired couriers as employees to fulfill their fast deliveries.
DoorDash, like other “gig economy” companies that emerged in the 2010s, usually relies on an army of gig workers to make deliveries. Drivers or cyclists sign in to the app to work when they want, and sign off when they want, a flexibility that DoorDash says is attractive to most of its couriers. Ninety percent of these “Dashers” work fewer than 10 hours per week, according to Max Rettig, the company’s vice president of global policy. But they get few of the traditional protections of employment: health insurance, workers’ compensation, paid time off, or eligibility for unemployment benefits. The gig workers also must buy and maintain their own equipment, including cars, bicycles, and special bags to keep food warm. Generally, they are not paid for the time they spend on the app waiting for new orders to come in.
That changed for a handful of DoorDash workers when the company began to operate a “dark convenience store” in Manhattan on Monday morning. Only DoorDash warehouse workers—also employees—and couriers are permitted to enter the “DashMart” convenience store, one of about 25 nationwide. By using employees, DoorDash hopes to ensure that there is a person on hand to deliver every inbound order in the guaranteed 10-to-15-minute window.
The result will be “two tiers of [delivery] workers working side by side in the street,” says Hildalyn Colón, director of policy for Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group that represents 4,000 mostly Central American and Mexican immigrants who deliver for app-based services in New York City. “Why are you treating them differently?”
Gustavo Ajche, a delivery cyclist for GrubHub and DoorDash and the leader of Los Deliveristas Unidos, says even courier employees won’t have enough protections to ensure that they can stay safe while doing their jobs. Instant delivery companies are “pushing the workers to move faster to deliver something in less than 15 minutes,” he says. “It’s dangerous, it’s not safe for workers.” Twelve delivery people have died on New York City roads in 2021, according to Los Deliveristas Unidos. Last year, 24 New York cyclists died in traffic incidents, and more than 5,000 were injured.
The initial courier employees will work an average of 25 hours a week, says DoorDash’s Rettig. They’ll be eligible for benefits, but only those that come with part-time work. Those include commuter benefits, access to an employee assistance program that will provide short-term counseling and assessments, and free access to DashPass, a DoorDash membership program that gives members lower delivery fees for their own ordered meals. Full-time employees will also receive medical, dental, and vision insurance, and can accrue paid time off.
The couriers will earn $15 an hour plus tips, and receive free ebicycles, helmets, jackets, and other delivery equipment. They will technically be hired through a new DoorDash subsidiary called DashCorps.
DoorDash says its new employees will receive training, safety gear, and access to an in-app tool that will help them contact a security agent if they feel unsafe. Company ebikes will not be able to travel faster than 20 mph, according to a press release.
Labor advocates don’t believe that the switch from contractor to employee is necessarily cause to celebrate. “The bar is so low,” says Katie Wells, a postdoctoral researcher who studies gig workers at Georgetown University’s Tech and Society initiative. “Making workers into employees in and of itself isn’t enough to guarantee that a job is decent.” For years, retail and service employees have dealt with unpredictable shift schedules, which are often set by software and leave them unable to plan their lives outside of work. Amazon warehouse employees in Alabama, New York City, and elsewhere have organized against the company’s automated systems, which penalize the workers for completing work tasks or even going to the bathroom too slowly. “Instant delivery” employees may have to work around the same challenges, Wells warns.
Rettig says DoorDash will continue to push for federal and state laws allowing transportation and delivery companies to hire workers as contractors rather than employees. In 2020, DoorDash, Instacart, Uber, and Lyft spent more than $200 million to fund a California ballot measure that reversed state legislation forcing them to treat workers as employees. The California law also gave a health care subsidy to those who work a certain number of hours, and 120 percent of local minimum wage while workers are delivering, but not while they’re waiting for jobs. The companies are funding similar legislative pushes in Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York.
Rettig calls the new delivery positions “a great complement” to its gig work jobs. “Our philosophy is more choice, more opportunity is ultimately a good thing,” he says.
Uber, Lyft, and Instacart did not respond to WIRED’s requests for comment. A report from The Information suggests that Instacart is working on its own “instant delivery” service. The company may contract with an outside firm to complete the orders—perhaps one of the startups already operating in New York, which hire couriers as employees.
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