Congressmembers Demand App-based Delivery Companies Prioritize Driver Safety

Liz Carey

Following reports that highlight the deaths of more than 50 drivers working for app-based delivery companies, a group of Congress members are demanding the companies institute better safety protocols.

U.S. Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass.; Richard Blumenthal, D.Conn.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; joined U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.; and Seth Moulton, D-Mass; in sending a letter to the CEO of several app-based delivery companies including Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, GrubHub and Instacart asking that worker safety be prioritized, as well as asking for answers about the dangers of ride-share delivery and driving.

The letter comes after reports from groups like Gig Workers Rising, which found that at least 50 app-based workers have been killed on the job in the U.S. since 2017. Another report, based on a survey of 5,000 delivery drivers in New York City from the Workers Justice Project and Cornell University (WJP), found that 49 percent of drivers surveyed had been in an accident or crash while driving, and that of those 75 percent said they paid for the medical care themselves. Additionally, delivery drivers are more likely to be victims of violent assaults while working, the study found. Fifty-four percent of the WJP study’s survey participants said they had been victims of robbery, and about 30 percent of those reported being physically assaulted.

“The app-based delivery business model increases the danger,”?the Congressmembers wrote. “Many app-based delivery companies are known to have tracked their drivers’ cancellation and acceptance rates, and penalized drivers for cancelling or not accepting rides. No driver should face punishment for legitimately declining a ride or delivery they believe would place them in a dangerous situation. Higher pay would also reduce the pressure on drivers to accept rides they deem unsafe.”

The Congressmembers asked the app-based delivery companies to tell them how and when the companies classify a worker as “working.” Additionally, the Congressmembers asked for information on worker safety incidents, whether or not workers are notified of ongoing on-the-job hazards, if family members or next-of-kin are notified if a worker dies on the job, whether or not the companies pay any compensation to workers’ or their families for on-the-job injuries or deaths, whether the companies offer occupational injury protection to workers, and if delivery workers are required to sign arbitration agreements in order to work.

“App-based delivery workers are some of the most vulnerable workers in our economy, but [the companies have] not sufficiently protected and supported them in the face of a global pandemic, increasing violence, and economic instability,” the lawmakers wrote. “Your refusal to grant them basic insurance and benefits, even in the face of death on the job, and despite their key role in your business, is unacceptable.”

According to the WJP report, an estimated 65,000 food couriers worked in the New York City area at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vast majority of them (81 percent) work five or more days. Because the delivery drivers are contract laborers and not employees, they are not subject to workers’ compensation laws or wage and hour laws. WJP estimates that most delivery drivers work more than five days – 31 percent work six days a week and 33 percent work seven days a week. Delivery drivers make an estimated $7.91 per hour, far below the minimum wage for New York City, the report said.

In March 2020, the New York Court of Appeals classified app-based workers for Postmates were “employees” under New York’s unemployment insurance law. Using the “right to control test,” the court found that Postmates exercised enough control over its workers to make them employees. However, it’s not clear whether the Postmates ruling will be extended to delivery drivers.

On top of assaults, delivery drivers face other safety issues, the WJP report said.

“Food delivery in New York City is a dangerous job. Workers spend hours each day weaving through New York City’s infamous traffic dodging cars and pedestrians,” the report said. “Climate change has made incidents of extreme heat and erratic storms a consistent problem. Trucks pour out noxious fumes and kick up dirt and road salt which batters the workers. Many of these health and safety issues, though, are made worse by the platforms’ policies and by the need for greater bike safety infrastructure in the City.”

A lack of bathroom access also has negative health impacts on delivery drivers, the report said.

Of the WJP’s survey respondents, 83 percent said they were denied access to a bathroom in the restaurants where they had gone to pick up food. Delivery workers also said there aren’t enough public restrooms that are easily available.

“Lack of bathroom access can lead to serious long term health problems which doctors call ‘Taxi Driver Syndrome,’” the report said. “The syndrome is associated with higher incidence of genital and urinary organ diseases and cancers due to long-term driving stress. This issue was made worse during the pandemic when restaurants did not want to let the delivery workers inside their establishments and many public restrooms were temporarily closed.”