Op-Ed | The unexpected struggles of the delivery industry

Restaurants will not provide plastic utensils, packet condiments, napkins and other in to-go food orders, unless the customer specifically asks for them.
Photo via Getty Images
Since 2016, I have been a delivery worker in New York City-  first with DoorDash, and since 2020 with Uber Eats. The delivery industry has changed a lot over the years, especially as food delivery has expanded to all kinds of merchants in all areas of the City. We’ve seen more orders at all hours of the day, not just from restaurants, but also from coffee shops, convenience stores and even grocery stores.  

But by far, the biggest change I’ve seen is the new earnings mandate the City passed and has been in place for the last couple of months- which for some unknown reason only applies to the apps that do restaurant delivery and not the other grocery or convenience store apps. This new standard changed things in a big way- especially around the flexibility that we used to have, and relied on while delivering. I started delivering on Uber Eats because I am an independent contractor- which typically means no schedule and no time requirements or rules on where I have to deliver. But recently that has changed.

Now, instead of going online whenever I choose, I have to either use the Planner and try to choose times in advance, or I can only go online when it’s busy enough in that particular neighborhood. I’ve been able to make this work so far- and luckily the neighborhoods I like to deliver in like Brooklyn Heights and Bed-Stuy have been busy, but I do worry about the future. I plan to go back to school this fall, and what that means for me is a full 15 credit schedule- which when you add in the time for studying leaves not a lot of time for work- and certainly makes it hard for a job that has set shifts.

My plan so far has been to set aside around 20 hours per week to do delivery, and try to work either in the early mornings, late evenings or during the day depending on how the class schedule works out. But there are always things outside of classes that are unpredictable- like during finals, when I have larger projects or papers due- or for group work I need to do outside of classes. When I go back to school, I’m going to have to find a way to work around that schedule. 

Another problem with this mandate is that it only works for some deliveries, even if it’s the same work- like with groceries. I prefer to use UberEats because I like the way the app works more, and historically it had the best flexibility. But sometimes I find that I can sign onto Instacart and do the same deliveries from the same stores -flexibly, but now making less money. I think the City made a mistake by not including grocery, and now it’s just more confusing and unfair for workers. We’re forced to choose one app for delivery because it’s flexible, but now we’re not getting the same higher wage. How is this logical?

I don’t think that the City should make Instacart remove flexibility though, and force them into the scheduling like they did with Uber. I just think that all apps should have more flexibility – and in a dream world a good base wage- including Instacart, GoPuff and any of the app deliveries we can sign onto in New York. I’ve read through all the regulations and understand that the City has tried to create a much higher wage for an online hour- but that’s just not the way this type of work should exist. 

We’ve lumped workers into an hourly wage, even though most of us don’t want to work this way. So I say this to the City – go back to the drawing board. Set a wage that makes sense for people who work as independent contractors. Pick a number that works for workers and companies so that we have a higher wage than before but not so high that it needs to be scheduled at an hourly rate. 

Doing this would let the thousands of us in the City who depend on flexibility in order to earn a living continue to support ourselves. Without this change, all of us who can only work a small number of hours per week, and don’t know which hours in advance will soon be without an opportunity at all.