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Court in Manhattan to hear minimum wage case involving NYC, food delivery workers

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

If you've been to New York City recently, you've probably seen delivery workers for apps such as Uber Eats and DoorDash whizzing through the streets on their e-bikes. These workers were set to make nearly $18 an hour starting last month. Then the app companies sued the city. A court in Manhattan will hear the case today. NPR's Danielle Kaye is following the legal battle, and she joins us now from New York.

How significant will this law be for delivery workers if it actually goes into effect?

DANIELLE KAYE, BYLINE: Yeah. So here in New York, there are more than 60,000 people who deliver food for these apps. Most delivery workers are paid per delivery, and that's because they're not employees of these companies. They're independent contractors. A lot of them aren't even earning close to New York City's minimum wage of $15 an hour. They make an average of 11 an hour, including tips, so the new pay rate that's being debated today is a big deal. And starting right away, app companies would pay workers $18 an hour and then eventually 20 an hour in 2025 before tips, so it would be a significant pay raise. But these workers have to pay for their own health insurance and various expenses, like renting electric bikes. The app companies don't cover those costs, so this pay standard is trying to account for that.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, I read that the pay rate was supposed to begin a few weeks ago - the pay rate increase. So what do the app companies have to say?

KAYE: Right. Well, these companies are saying consumers would see higher costs, and they say the pay standard would harm workers, too, with outcomes like less generous tipping. I mean, the way they see it, one of the benefits of this kind of gig work is flexibility for workers, and they say an hourly pay rate would chip away at that flexibility. And stepping back for a minute, the proposal has been in the works for a while. New York City Council passed a law two years ago ordering a minimum pay rate to be put into effect, but there's been a lot of corporate lobbying against it. The city released its final rule this June, and workers were expecting to see the minimum wage go into effect on July 12. But three of the biggest app companies - Uber, DoorDash and Grubhub - as well as New-York-based Relay, sued the city just one week before the expected start date, and so the judge delayed the rollout.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what do we expect in court today?

KAYE: Well, this morning, a judge in Manhattan will hear arguments for and against the pay standard, and it's not clear if the judge will rule today. The city's Department of Consumer and Worker Protection said they're hoping for a quick decision from the court. They estimate workers across the city are losing a total of $15 million in lost wages each week that the pay standard is delayed. And food delivery is really common in New York. Delivery workers are vulnerable to the extreme weather New York has been seeing recently. They were biking in wildfire smoke and ongoing heat waves, not to mention that the nature of the work, rushing around on e-bikes to get deliveries done, puts them and others at risk of accidents. So they argue they deserve to be compensated fairly for this dangerous work that so many New Yorkers rely on.

MARTÍNEZ: So clearly a big deal in New York City, but is there a significance more broadly?

KAYE: I mean, as of now, this kind of pay standard is rare. Seattle passed legislation last year requiring gig workers to be brought up to the local minimum wage of more than $18 an hour, and there have been similar proposals elsewhere. But getting this on the books in a city as big as New York would make a difference, especially because there are so many delivery workers here, and it could potentially serve as a model for other cities.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Danielle Kaye in New York. Danielle, thanks.

KAYE: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Danielle Kaye
Danielle Kaye (she/her) is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow. Before joining NPR, Kaye worked as a business reporter at Reuters, where she covered compensation policies and union organizing at technology and retail companies. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2021 with degrees in Global Studies and French. While studying in Berkeley, Kaye reported and produced for listener-funded radio station KPFA, covering protests and housing issues in California for KPFA's morning public affairs show. She was also a researcher at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Investigations Lab and a news reporter and editor at the student-run newspaper The Daily Californian. Kaye lived with a host family in Dakar, Senegal, in 2019, which inspired her to write her senior thesis about threats to Senegal's artisanal fishing communities.
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