There are many downsides to working as a food delivery courier for a service like Uber Eats, like the lack of benefits. But one less talked about is that, because these workers aren’t employed by a specific restaurant, they have nowhere they can stop between jobs to use the restroom. And in cities like New York, restaurants often refuse bathroom access to anyone who isn’t a customer.
That’s going to change now, as a new bill has passed in NYC that will require restaurants to allow delivery workers to use their bathrooms when they are picking up food. The historic move could spread to the rest of the United States as workers demand better conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic when delivering food is more dangerous than ever.
Indignities — Other workers in the gig economy, like Amazon delivery drivers, have reported needing to pee in bottles in order to keep up with their delivery quotas.
There are many other downsides to working for a food delivery service. Before the rise of Uber Eats and Grubhub, delivery workers would be employed by a specific restaurant, and simply sit around the restaurant waiting for orders. But that’s all gone now, and drivers are on their own as delivery startups try and keep costs to an absolute minimum by eliminating things like fixed salaries or healthcare benefits. The fact that drivers often make below minimum wage is bad enough, but reports have circulated of workers trudging through hurricane conditions delivering food only to net less than minimum wage. And on top of that, they haven’t even had anywhere to stop and pee.
Legal precedent — New York City is trying to address other issues with working as a delivery driver. Other new laws that have been passed alongside the bathroom bill will require a guaranteed minimum pay for delivery workers per trip, as well as limits on how far workers can be asked to trek to make a delivery. These are necessary changes that the companies have opposed implementing as they promote flexibility as a major benefit in and of itself. But flexibility belies the fact that many workers do these jobs out of necessity, and would probably prefer the benefits that come with permanent employment. Making drivers independent contractors is a clever way to offload costs.
All of these changes might raise the prices of delivery for consumers. But that’s a good thing if it means workers are compensated fairly for their time and effort.