Editor’s Desk — Gig workers struggle to feed their families

Gustavo Ajche before a march in Manhattan. Some days he says he makes as little as $50 delivering food for DoorDash, Relay and other third-party apps. Photo by John Taggart.

During the pandemic, the couriers who delivered meals became a lifeline for people sheltering in place and working remotely. It wasn’t easy for anyone during the lockdown, but those who had to work for gig companies like DoorDash and Relay had it even worse: they could not even earn enough to feed their families.

Karina Piser, who covers food insecurity for FERN, reports on this sector in her latest story, produced in collaboration with Mother Jones. In New York City, gig workers felt so exploited they banded together to form Los Deliveristas Unidos, a network of mostly Mexican and Guatemalan delivery workers. Their demands: higher wages, a commitment from restaurants to let working couriers use restrooms, and a state-financed insurance fund to replace stolen bikes, a common problem.

But New York’s delivery people weren’t alone. Eighty percent of gig workers surveyed in the summer of 2020 by the University of California, Los Angeles, Labor Center said they weren’t making enough to meet household expenses. A third did not have enough for groceries. One worker told Piser he sometimes made $5 or $10 an hour. Plus, the companies don’t pass on the full amount of the tip to couriers. “Because most app-based food delivery companies classify workers as independent contractors, not employees, the workers lacked critical labor protections and benefits during an unstable time, even struggling to qualify for SNAP,” she writes.

The pandemic, one organizer told Piser, “has helped more Americans acknowledge the paradox of ‘essential’ gig workers, who, after delivering food across the city, line up for food themselves.” It also changed the way gig workers think. “During a moment of crisis, people realize they need to be a part of something,” he said.

We’re gratified Piser can report on the complicated and widespread problem of hunger and food insecurity for FERN, but she can only do so with your help. As a nonprofit that relies on donations to do our work, we appreciate any support you can give for this critical reporting.