To combat disparities caused by their status as independent contractors and mistreatment by app companies, food app delivery workers in New York City have been fighting for better working conditions. After months of workers organizing to expose their lack of basic employee rights, the New York City Council finally passed a bill package last week that recognizes the rights of these essential workers, as well as the hard work delivery workers put in to accomplish its goal.

Through a legal loophole, food app delivery workers are considered independent contractors, which prevents them from obtaining the same basic rights as other employees such as minimum wage, union membership, workers compensation insurance, and paid sick days. The pandemic — which shrunk the restaurant industry and placed more labor on delivery workers — intensified poor working conditions by preventing delivery workers from using restaurant bathrooms during order pickup and risking the health and safety of delivery workers who were compensated with less than minimum wage.

Additionally, many restaurant workers lost their jobs and turned to food delivery apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, and UberEats in order to stay employed. However, the shift from working in a restaurant to working for a food delivery service has been less than ideal for most, to say the least.

According to Los Deliveristas Unidos — a new labor organization that formed in the midst of the pandemic to ensure sufficient rights for food delivery app workers — these workers are especially susceptible to exploitation. Many of these workers are immigrants who are not native English speakers, so food delivery app companies take advantage of this fact by creating confusing contracts that legally commit workers to terms they do not fully understand.

With the help of the Workers Justice Project, Los Deliveristas Unidos campaigned for better working conditions, which culminated in the New York City Council passing a bill package in their honor on September 23. The package, entitled NYC Delivered Justice to Los Deliveristas, includes rights such as restaurant bathroom access during order pickup, minimum per trip payments, the ability to set maximum distances per trip and deny trips over bridges or tunnels, payment at least once per week, availability of insulated bags without additional payment, and more transparency about tips.

“Today is a historic day for app delivery workers because we create labor rights for all Los Deliveristas,” said Gustavo Ajche, a Los Deliveristas Unidos leader, in a statement. “I feel excited and happy because this package of legislation demonstrates the value of Deliveristas as essential workers. During the pandemic and natural disasters — we kept many small businesses and millions of New Yorkers afloat. Today, Los Deliveristas show that we are up in the fight to protect and better New York City.”

Celebrating alongside NYC food app delivery workers are the local politicians who helped to pass this monumental legislation.

"It’s easy as a New York City politician to say you stand up for workers,” said New York City Council Member Justin Brannan in a statement. “The bills we have crafted together send a clear message: we will not sit back and allow companies worth billions to continue to profit off the backs and bicycles of exploited workers.”

Although this bill package is the first of its kind in the United States, the Council Members have made it clear that they not only hope to further expand the rights of food app delivery workers in their city, but also to inspire similar movements in other cities nationwide.

“The basic human dignity of delivery workers, many of whom are immigrants, has been ignored for too long across the country,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “New York City is taking the lead in transforming this industry with a legislative package that will give deliveristas the rights they deserve. I'm proud of New York City and this Council for standing up for these workers, and I urge other major cities to protect this industry.”

People across the country have turned to social media to encourage other cities to grant food app delivery workers the same protections

“This #citycouncil leg package is a huge victory for #deliveryworkers, but it's appalling that other cities don't have similar protections for workers & #restaurants,” said Twitter user Haley Schusterman (@h_schusterman). “If you don't live in NYC, email your legislators and urge them to introduce similar bills.”

While it may take a while for other U.S. cities to follow in NYC’s footsteps, there are steps we can take as college students to support these essential workers from anywhere in the country. One of the main grievances of food app delivery workers is that the app companies often withhold tips, something that the new bill package has resolved for New York City workers. However, many people don’t tip these workers enough to begin with, including college students who are often frequent food delivery app users.

Although many college students are tight on cash, tipping is a sign of respect and acknowledgment of the service that delivery workers are providing you. The Boston Globe recommends that customers tip no less than $2 and ideally between 15 and 20 percent. They also encourage customers to remember to tip for curbside pickup, wear masks when receiving their orders, and leave positive reviews for good service. It is also important to tip in cash whenever possible to ensure that workers get to keep the entirety of the tips they earn. These are all small actions we can take to support food delivery workers across the nation.

While we don’t have the same level of impact as legislators and labor organizations, it is important that we do all that we can to support the people who make our lives simpler by traveling to pick up our food for us. Make sure to treat food app delivery workers with the respect they deserve and reach out to your local representatives if you are passionate about securing the same rights in your city as Los Deliveristas Unidos have earned for those in NYC.