The Deliveristas | Translation
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Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
As a child, Ernesta Gálvez never had a bicycle. In her home, in Guerrero, Mexico, there was neither time nor money. While other children her age played, she and her 10 siblings sold tortillas and ice cream to help their parents.
[Ernesta Gálvez]: There was no way we’d have enough for a bicycle, even if we wanted the bicycle; a toy, I mean, we could never have them.
[Daniel]: So she spent her childhood without getting on a bike. Also her teens and mid-20s.
She married at the age of 25, in 2005, and was pregnant with her first child that same year. It was then that Ernesta and her husband decided to emigrate to the United States. They wanted to give their daughter a better life. She gave up the possibility of working as a nurse in Mexico, and they arrived at Corona, a neighborhood in Queens, in New York.
[Ernesta]: All kinds of Latinos live there. Salvadorans, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Dominicans, all kinds, all kinds.
[Daniel]: It was in a park in that neighborhood that Ernesta got on a bicycle for the first time. It happened about three months after giving birth, and she was scared to death. But her husband offered to teach her.
[Ernesta]: And I got on, I fell, I hurt myself all over, but he tells me, “No, you shouldn’t look at your feet; you have to look ahead so that you can learn.”
[Daniel]: And so she did. She looked ahead, pedaled, held on tight, and after a few more attempts, she stopped falling.
She kept practicing for a few days, improving her technique. Getting to her job at a laundromat in Bayside—another Queens neighborhood—took her a long time and several changes of trains and buses, so she started riding her bike. But it was only for a couple of months, because she made friends at work who began to accompany her on the same route she had. So she left the bike in the patio of her house and forgot about it for 10 years.
Until her third child was born. Her job at the laundry meant long hours and a tight schedule. She wanted to spend less time away from home and spend more time with her three children.
And talking to her husband about it, they had an idea:
[Ernesta]: He tells me, “There is an opportunity to do delivery. Do you want to learn?”
[Daniel]: Do delivery, that is, get back on a bicycle and be a food delivery person, like him. In New York, these people call themselves in Spanish deliveristas. The vast majority are immigrants. They come from South Asia, West Africa, but mainly from Latin America, from countries like Guatemala and Mexico.
Her husband explained to Ernesta that she had to download an app and sign up. She practiced with the bike for another week around the neighborhood and decided to start working in Manhattan, which was the area of the city with the most restaurants per capita. Ernesta didn’t know Manhattan well, but she thought, how hard can it be?
[Ernesta]: The first time I went to Manhattan, I almost got killed by a car because I got in front of it.
[Daniel]: Even so, it went very well for her that day. In five hours, she made close to $200, and that motivated her. She kept trying, an hour or two a day. Although Manhattan, of course, continued to be difficult for her. She would get lost, she would take a long time delivering the orders, she would fall… After one of those falls, she called her husband.
[Ernesta]: I told him, “This job is not for me, I am not going to continue doing it. I am not going to work on this. Well, as you can see.” And I stood there crying…
[Daniel]: Because knowing how to ride a bike is not enough to be a delivery person in the Big Apple.
Getting around there is no simple matter, even now that we use apps like Google Maps. It takes practice, especially if you have to get to your destination fast. It involves understanding how the streets are divided.
The island of Manhattan can be described as a grid. It has 12 vertical avenues, numbered from right to left, and 155 horizontal streets, numbered from bottom to top. Fifth Avenue is the main artery and divides the city in two. Over time, and with a lot of effort, Ernesta began to understand it.
[Ernesta]: Manhattan is a book. Pretend that the crease in the book is… is 5th Avenue. From 5th on this side is the East Side and from 5th on this side is the West Side.
[Daniel]: And that work, which at first seemed impossible for her, became something she enjoyed. She did it surrounded by a lot of people, cars, noise, tourists, distributing all kinds of food…
[Ernesta]: To those of us who love this job by now, well, Manhattan is, as people say, a piece of cake.
[Daniel]: But the most difficult fight would come later. And she would face it, accompanied by thousands of other delivery persons, in the heart of Manhattan.
We’ll be back after a break.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante.
Our editor Natalia Sánchez Loayza picks up this story.
[Natalia Sánchez]: When her son started kindergarten, Ernesta became a full-time delivery woman and would deliver with her husband. Since she was primarily in charge of caring for her little boy, she soon adopted a routine.
[Ernesta]: I drop my son off at school, grab my bike, and head to Manhattan.
[Natalia]: The trip that awaits her is at least 45 minutes to her delivery area.
[Ernesta]: From here, well, I go up 43rd Avenue and I take Roosevelt Avenue. Once there I arrive and cross the Queensboro Bridge, take Second Avenue and arrive in the Lower or East Village.
[Natalia]: There she logs into the app, at the intersection of 14th Street and Second Avenue.
[Ernesta]: I start work as early as around nine or ten. I have to leave before half past one because I have to go back and get my child.
[Natalia]: She picks him up, they do homework together, and she feeds him.
[Ernesta]: And if I see that I’m not too tired—I’m usually not—then I go back to Manhattan, back to work at five or six, and I finish around nine… nine or ten at night and I’m done. I come home.
[Natalia]: It’s a routine that seems simple and, for the most part, safe.
[Ernesta]: The only dangerous thing is the bridge, but, after that, nothing more happens.
[Natalia]: When I spoke to her, she never complained about the grind, but I’m sure it must be exhausting. Although it was something she was willing to do. Anyway, at that time, being a delivery person for an app had its ups and downs.
Just like those who rent their apartments on Airbnb or transport people on Uber, those who deliver food through apps are part of a new work model called the gig economy. It’s a very similar system to the freelance or independent worker model, but with this key difference: you connect with a client using apps or virtual platforms.
It’s a model with no bosses, contracts, or office hours. You decide when, how much and where you will work, just as Ernesta wanted. But this means that you do not have a fixed income. Your main source of income is the tips given by customers, which vary from person to person. Often, you could choose to deliver near fancy restaurants and earn very good tips. Ernesta remembers well the biggest tip she ever got.
[Ernesta]: It was a 145-dollar tip. They were two bags. I even thought the client had made a mistake. And on top, the woman speaks to me in Spanish. “It’s all yours,” she says. And on top of that, she gave me a soda.
[Natalia]: There was that kind of satisfaction, but, of course, sometimes, clients don’t give you a single dollar. Plus it can be a very lonely job. A delivery person drives to the area, opens the app and, without saying good morning to anyone, begins the day. He or she picks up the order and doesn’t have to talk to restaurant workers. Sometimes, not even to customers. As a delivery person, you leave the order at the door, take a photo for proof, leave, and your payment arrives in your bank account each week.
[Natalia]: I spoke with several delivery persons who told me that had to find their own way to put up with the loneliness. Some agreed to deliver at the same time with friends, others with people from their same country, others with their families. When they weren’t biking through the city, they would meet on a corner or in a park, keeping each other company while they waited for the next order to came.
For example, in the case of Ernesta, in addition to her husband, she delivered with a group of Mexican friends. But even so, work was a little lonelier for her, because there was only one other woman besides her in that group.
Just two years after starting to deliver, she met one more delivery woman, and after a few months, another…
[Ernesta]: So then we had four women. I mean, no, now there’s more of us.
[Natalia]: For her, it was a joy to meet more women, even if they didn’t talk much or just exchanged glances or hellos in passing.
Of course, like any other cyclist in the city, you are at risk of traffic accidents and also bike theft. And if something happens to you, you don’t have health insurance paid for by the apps.
But, in general, for many migrants, especially those who are undocumented, being able to get a job without having to submitting so many documents, just signing up for an app, can be a great advantage.
And so, being a delivery person, at least until 2019, was complex, but it was worth it.
Until the pandemic came. And everything was transformed.
[Ernesta]: The city was very much like a ghost town. The city was no longer the same. For example, consider Times Square. I mean, you rode there and there was nothing. Nothing, absolutely nothing. It was a very sad thing. It was awful.
[Natalia]: Yes, it was awful. In a few months, New York became the global epicenter of the pandemic. And Ernesta’s neighborhood, Corona, along with four other neighborhoods in Queens, became the epicenter of the epicenter. The risk of contagion was very high, and the most affected were Latino and Black people.
Furthermore, the apps, faced with the avalanche of requests they received—and no doubt for other reasons as well—decided to change the rules of the game.
[Ernesta]: The company sent a message asking us to help them and help the people who were locked up at home and all. What we did was a humanitarian task. In other words, go the distance.
[Natalia]: They widened the distances of orders considerably. According to Ernesta, the maximum number of blocks you had to travel suddenly tripled. You could get orders from places that were up to 30 blocks away.
Many people had to replace their bikes with electric ones in order to get those miles on time. And, well, they are very expensive. They can cost two thousand dollars.
As we said, New York looked like a ghost town. The streets had been practically emptied, and the delivery workers, on their new bicycles, could ride faster than ever without the traffic. But the loneliness of the work became deeper. And since everything was closed to the public, the restaurants did not allow the delivery persons to use their bathrooms or eat inside their establishments. Sometimes they weren’t even allowed to buy food. They delivered the orders while keeping their distance.
[Ernesta]: We felt we were the ones carrying the disease because they covered themselves completely and just gave us food through the window.
Some told me they felt discriminated against. Not even the customers would have contact with them. Let’s remember that it was a time when we didn’t really know how the virus worked, and we thought that just touching an infected surface could make us sick.
But the apps did not consider this factor.
[Ernesta]: Sometime the apps required us to deliver the food directly to the customers.
[Natalia]: Personally, in hand. Many of Ernesta’s coworkers ended up getting blocked for this very reason, because by not taking a picture of the customer holding the order, the app said that had no proof if the customer said they hadn’t received their food. In addition to being blocked, the delivery persons’ accounts could also be disabled entirely. This is the way you get fired in this work model.
Once more, they had to figure something out.
[Ernesta]: My strategy changed, and I told my pals to leave it at the door, take the picture, and that’s it.
[Natalia]: But it was not only the blocking. Worse still, delivery persons confirmed another very frustrating suspicion. Despite taking orders from expensive restaurants or traveling very long distances, their tips remained low. So they started asking customers. Some—those who did dare to talk to the delivery person—confirmed that the apps were not giving them their full tips. They showed them their cell phones. The amounts did not add up.
And because they were not employees and didn’t actually have an employer, they had no rights protecting them from unfair lockouts, deactivation, or wage theft. They could only try to solve their problems through the company’s customer service, which almost never worked for them.
The pandemic also complicated the flexibility of their schedules.
[Ernesta]: I had to divide my time, be at home all morning because there were online classes, and leave for work in the afternoon, sometimes until two in the morning.
[Natalia]: So the working hours became even longer and the economy more difficult because nobody pays you for the hours you invest in helping your children study via Zoom.
And, well, the worst of it all was that being on the street became more and more dangerous. Some of the delivery workers commented that many were being assaulted in the empty streets and having their bicycles stolen. Often during these robberies, they were physically assaulted. And a few had been killed in the confrontations.
And everything got worse soon after, on May 25, with the death of George Floyd.
(Archive Sound Bite)
[Journalist]: Floyd is the man under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who is heard saying that he can’t breathe, that his stomach and neck hurt.
[Natalia]: Floyd was a Black American man who was killed to death by a white police officer. His murder sparked massive protests against racism and police violence across the country.
(Archive Sound Bite)
[Journalist]: What has been experienced in New York is also very tense, where hundreds of people are gathered for another day of protests over the death of George Floyd after tempers flared last night and there were dozens of arrests.
No justice, no peace, no justice, no peace…
[Natalia]: New York was no exception. New Yorkers took to the streets despite the restrictions of the pandemic. They were outraged, fed up with police abuse.
The demonstrations in New York would be so massive that the city would impose its first curfew in 75 years. According to the mayor, it was imposed to protect the city and its residents. I remember. I was in Manhattan in those days. At night, there were police helicopters flying over the city, but in the streets people continued to protest.
And caught between the protesters and the police were the delivery persons. For them, the almost empty city was suddenly safer than the city full of protests.
Ernesta remembers that time as one of the most difficult of 2020:
[Ernesta]: That was more frightening for us, because we were picking up the food, delivering it, and finding people breaking into restaurants, everything. And with the police, sometimes we would say, “Oh no, they’re going to mistake us for them.”
[Natalia]: And yes, they were mistaken for protesters several times. In fact, some of her friends were arrested.
Ernesta’s children were very worried about their parents.
[Ernesta]: They called me, “Mom, they’re going to beat you, they’re going to arrest you, come home.” And, well, I told them, “No, I have to work, there’s no other way, I have to work.”
[Natalia]: The curfew lasted a week. And the next morning, on June 8, phase 1 of the reopening of the city began. Shopping centers, museums, gyms, bars and restaurants would reopen little by little, in the months that followed. It was an attempt to return to New York the way it was before.
But going back to normal would no longer be an option for many delivery persons, including Ernesta.
After the protests over the murder of George Floyd, Ernesta kept on working, delivering food in almost the same precarious conditions—having problems with tips, biking long distances.
The marches, which lasted a couple of months, stopped, but the streets were still unsafe. In fact, a city report estimated that 8 delivery persons died in 2020 while at work delivering food.
Ernesta had heard of a larger group of delivery persons coming together to demand changes in their working conditions. She was told by some of her friends, but she hadn’t found out anything more.
She didn’t know it, but it had all started with him:
[Gustavo Ajché]: My name is Sergio Gustavo Ajché. I am Guatemalan and have lived here in New York City since 2004.
[Natalia]: Two days after arriving in New York, Gustavo became a delivery man. Long before apps dominated the market. And he remembers that conditions were very different then. The biggest difference, for example, was that your bosses were the owners or managers of the restaurants.
[Gustavo]: Having an employer was different before, because sometimes they would ask you where you are, what time you will be there, or also whether it was your birthday. There are places where they celebrated your birthday or sometimes a holiday, right? Like Christmas or Thanksgiving, the boss did something for you.
[Natalia]: The safety and well-being of a delivery person, in addition to the salary, depended on the owners of the establishments, as with any other worker in the city. Often when there were no orders, the delivery person did other tasks, like washing dishes or helping out with the most basic duties in the kitchen.
In other words, some had a fixed salary and others supplemented it with tips, and of course, they had rights like health insurance in case of work accidents or a pension when they retired. It wasn’t a perfect job, of course, there was a lot of informality, and bosses might not follow the law.
[Gustavo]: But with this app thing, being an independent contractor, you are left to your own luck, you know?
[Natalia]: Many delivery persons like him stopped delivering for a single restaurant and started working for different apps when these came along. Sometimes, it was their only job; others did it to get extra income. According to Gustavo, he began to spread the word among his Guatemalan friends that it was a job in which they could earn very good money.
[Gustavo]: At first, when apps came to the city, they were very good. Many delivery persons made good money because there was also an option to use more than one app simultaneously.
[Natalia]: For example, according to him, in 2017, on a good day, you could make about $150 or $200 in just four hours of work. On average that same year, a cook or waiter earned between $55 and $60 for the same number of hours. The difference was big.
[Gustavo]: I was like, “Wow, great!” It was something extra.
[Natalia]: Gustavo used to believe that earning more money was worth the risks and responsibilities of not having a boss, but like Ernesta, he realized during the pandemic that there were serious problems with the app work model.
The issue of payment had always been confusing. There were no standards. Each company had a different pay structure. Relay, one of those apps, paid you by the hour, but others, in fact the majority, chose to offer you a different system.
[Gustavo]: The apps give you a minimum per delivery. So… plus the tip. So sometimes, per order, it depends more on the tip that you can get for a delivery—4,5,6,7 dollars, but it depends more on the tip.
[Natalia]: We have explained how depending on tips caused much instability. But that minimum payment or base payment was not fixed, either. Some apps said they considered additional distances, minutes, and other factors unknown to delivery persons.
During the pandemic, base amounts could change overnight. Also, if an app thought it would take you, say, 20 minutes to deliver your order, and the restaurant took a long time to prepare it, the app wouldn’t pay you for that extra time.
And on top of everything, they had extended the distances, and let’s remember that they were not paying the tips in full.
[Gustavo]: There were customers who were nice. They asked you, “Hey, did you get the tip I gave you? I gave you 15 dollars, I gave you 20,” and an amount of two, three dollars appeared on the platform.
[Natalia]: All this was added to what we already explained: not being able to enter to eat or use the bathroom, the risk of contagion… And if they continued working on those terms, it’s because many had no other option.
But what led Gustavo and other friends to form a WhatsApp group was mainly the insecurity they faced on the streets, especially during the period of protests over the murder of George Floyd.
[Gustavo]: It was a way of taking care of each other. When we heard that the protests were coming somewhere, we spread the voice, we said, “There are protesters at such a place, do not come near,” and we moved away from that area, and if we saw that the app wanted to take us there, we rejected the orders.
[Natalia]: The WhatsApp group was named Deliveristas Unidos and had around 40 members back then. Most of them were Guatemalan.
But even if they found ways to take care of each other, the WhatsApp group alone couldn’t change the structural problems with app-based labor.
A few months later, on October 8, 2020, one of Gustavo’s friends told him that some 30 or 40 friends, mostly Guatemalans, had decided to hold a sit-in in front of a police station in Manhattan.
They had chosen that spot because they said that they got no help from the police when their bicycles were stolen, or protection from violence on the streets. What’s more, they had often been treated as criminals, arrested during protests, when they were just doing their job—which, furthermore, was considered essential.
Gustavo called one of those delivery men and told him:
[Gustavo]: What you did is fine, but going over to yell at two or three police officers is not going to get you anything.
[Natalia]: And at that moment, Gustavo had an idea: Organize a march that would go across the city so that more people would learn, not only about the security problems, but also about all their other demands.
[Gustavo]: Access to bathrooms, transparency, not stealing our tips, security. We weren’t asking all that much.
[Natalia]: What they all wanted.
He thought it was time to summon more people, all the delivery persons he knew. He sent messages on WhatsApp, made calls, shared the information on social media, and asked everyone to do the same.
They scheduled the meeting to go out and march on October 15, at 2 in the afternoon, only a week after the encampment of the Guatemalan delivery persons.
[Gustavo]: That’s when that route was created—a silly one because it is very long, from 79th to City Hall.
[Natalia]: A route of about 9 kilometers. They would start near the same police station and ride their bicycles down Broadway Avenue, until they reached City Hall, where protests in New York usually end.
[Natalia]: That day, Gustavo arrived a little late because he was at his other job, as a construction worker. He joined on 34th Street, near the Empire State Building, when the group had already traveled about 45 blocks.
And when he saw how many there were, he was shocked.
[Gustavo]: Let me tell you, when I went to see, a lot of people were coming, everyone shouting, honking, beep-beep-beep…
[Natalia]: The thing is that, although Gustavo knew that his closest companions would answer his call, he never expected to see so many. At City Hall, only one councilman and a few journalists were waiting for them.
Some estimate that there were a few hundred, and others, at least 800 delivery persons who joined the march that afternoon. It was the first time in New York that so many of them were gathered in one place.
The media began to pay attention.
[Gustavo]: Two or three days later, the calls started, but not everyone had the courage to speak into a microphone or to speak to someone they did not know, like a reporter.
[Natalia]: But Gustavo did feel comfortable. And all the calls began with a version of the same question: who are you, what are your names?
And Gustavo responded with the name of his WhatsApp group.
[Gustavo]: So from there it emerged that we were the Deliveristas Unidos, because we were not just Guatemalans or Mexicans; we were of different nationalities. So we use the Spanglish name Deliveristas Unidos, and keep that name.
[Natalia]: This is how the group Deliveristas Unidos was formally created. And Gustavo became the founder of the movement. They formed partnerships with council members, academics, city unions, and activist organizations, most notably the Worker’s Justice Project.
Throughout the remainder of the year, Deliveristas Unidos continued to grow. In fact, in a study the group did in conjunction with the Worker’s Justice Project and Cornell University, they found that, during the pandemic, the approximate number of delivery persons in New York had reached 65,000.
The apps, for their part, closed 2020 with record sales. For example, DoorDash went public in December. All while the non-tipped hourly earnings of their delivery workers averaged almost $8, just over half the minimum wage of any city employee, which is $15 an hour.
On the subject, the apps stated that they were willing to listen to feedback and that the average salary was higher than what the delivery persons said. Relay also denied that they weren’t paying the full tips.
I contacted the most used apps to order food in New York. DoorDash and GrubHub wouldn’t give us an interview; they just sent us press releases in which DoorDash said the hourly pay was almost $29, though they didn’t explain how they got there; and GrubHub said it encourages customers to tip at least 20%. UberEats declined to comment.
[Daniel]: Now that the delivery persons knew how many they could be, they would not stop their claims.
We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Before the break, we were hearing about how the pandemic has transformed the way delivery persons in New York work, and how a group of them were unhappy about it. They called a first march to protest, but 2020 ended without any change. So they would have to try one more time.
Natalia continues the story.
[Natalia]: As early as February 2021, Deliveristas Unidos and their allies were still demanding change, and this time, their request was more concrete. There was talk of a legislative package. There were six draft bills with which the city could regulate the apps.
In essence, they required apps to let delivery persons choose the distance they would travel without penalty, and not force them to cross bridges or tunnels. They also required apps to add in their agreements with the restaurants that they commit to letting delivery persons use their bathrooms. And finally, they asked for transparency with tips and for all apps to pay a fixed hourly rate. That way, workers would not continue to depend only on what customers gave them.
This represented a radical change in the logic of the economic model of apps.
If improvements didn’t come from the apps themselves, they demanded city laws to protect them.
The group decided that it was time to mobilize again to press for approval of the legislative package. They would take to the streets. And this time they did not plan to be hundreds, but thousands.
Gustavo’s WhatsApp group was not going to be enough to summon them. They had hopes of achieving a massive march, but they were not sure they would succeed. That was how Ernesta found out and prepared to accompany them in the protest.
As we said before, Ernesta used to go out delivering with her husband and her Mexican friends. They always kept in touch. Some had gone to the first march, the one organized by Gustavo and his acquaintances in just one week. It had caught Ernesta’s attention a bit, but she didn’t attend because she was busy that time. And it was those same friends who, one day in April 2021, told her that there would be a second mobilization and that it would be bigger.
[Ernesta]: I was told, “Well, let’s join. So that they give us permission to use the bathrooms, so that they grants us more rights, because we are deliveristas, so they need to see that we are united.”
[Natalia]: Ernesta still didn’t know the details, but she liked the idea. A few days earlier, she had read on the news that a delivery person had been killed in an attempt to steal his bike. She found it unfair.
[Ernesta]: I ask, “But who is going to go?” “Well, all of them.” “Then I’ll go, I’ll go out of curiosity.”
[Natalia]: The meeting was scheduled for April 21, 2021. This time they would meet in Times Square. And again, they would march together toward City Hall. Gustavo was one of the first to arrive at the meeting point. From 10 in the morning, in Times Square, he began broadcasting live on the Deliveristas Unidos Facebook account. He kept inviting people.
(Archive Sound Bite)
[Gustavo]: Good morning. Good morning to those who will be connecting. Good morning. Let’s hope that you will come here for the march that we have scheduled for 2 in the afternoon. But we are already here.
[Natalia]: The delivery persons began to arrive, on bicycles and motorcycles, and they began to occupy the entire width of Seventh Avenue.
(Archive Sound Bite)
[Gustavo]: Hello. We are… people are arriving. We are a pretty large group already. Hopefully more will join us.
[Natalia]: They held up signs with slogans such as, “Tips are not wages,” “I love New York,” and shouted in Spanish…
Yes we can, yes we can, yes we can…
[Natalia]: And hanging on their backs or on their vehicles, they carried the flags of each of their countries. In New York there have always been protests, but this one looked different. It was a demonstration by immigrants, the vast majority Latin Americans, that was taking place among the skyscrapers, and the screens and shops of Times Square.
[Natalia]: The delivery persons stopped the heart of Manhattan. They still hadn’t moved from their place. Yellow taxis, buses and cars honked at them to get them to move forward. In turn, the delivery persons, who were stopped until they got the order to advance, replied in kind, blaring out Molotov’s Gimme the Power.
[Molotov]: There are people who are getting rich. People living in poverty…
[Natalia]: When they decided to move forward, it seemed that there was no room for anyone else at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street. And as they rode down on their bicycles, the police, annoyed at the delivery persons because they had not requested the necessary permit, closed off the streets and stopped traffic, opening the way for them to pass. The delivery persons outnumbered them.
And on each block, even more joined. Those who protested were recruiting any delivery person they found on the street.
When they got to 14th Street, through the East Village, Ernesta and other colleagues from that area were waiting for them.
From where they were, they couldn’t see them, but they could hear them.
[Ernesta]: So many people. The noise they were making… We had said, “No! We are going to paralyze New York.” We had never done this. Well, we got excited. We joined. We were all happy.
[Natalia]: The forecast for that day was rain, but suddenly, it began to hail. Ernesta took refuge for a while, but later she recognized Gustavo and rejoined.
[Ernesta]: So I was just behind them, I was following them. It was awesome.
[Natalia]: They continued down 14th Street to the end of the island, to City Hall. This time was different.
[Ernesta]: No… it was more exciting. We thought there would not be any, uh, journalists. No… when we saw so many journalists, we said, “No, this is getting stronger.”
[Natalia]: This second march had been a success. Not only had they gotten the attention of several council members and various media, who were waiting for them at City Hall, but there were more than 3,000 delivery persons marching that day.
A week later, the legislative package officially entered the agenda of the City Council and would have to be debated. It was the first time in the entire country that an hourly payment was proposed for app delivery persons.
And New York was finally going to listen to them.
But it would take months. In that time, Ernesta would become more involved in the struggle for her rights and would meet more than 70 delivery women. She not only left home to work, but also to meet with her colleagues. For his part, Gustavo would continue to organize the Deliveristas Unidos.
On September 23, 2021, a little less than a year after the first sit-in by Guatemalan delivery persons, the city’s Municipal Council would vote to determine whether or not to approve the laws. Dozens of delivery persons gathered in a park in front of City Hall…
[Gustavo]: So we organized that day to have food for the delivery persons, bicycle repair for the delivery persons, right there in City Hall.
[Natalia]: It was a cool day. They waited while they shared food, gave statements to the press and talked. Finally, early in the afternoon, Gustavo received the news: they had won. The entire legislative package had passed.
Gustavo summoned them, told them the news, and thanked everyone for joining.
And he told them that they had not only won but had obtained 40 votes in favor and 3 against. They were happy.
Yes we did it, yes we did it, yes we did it.
[Natalia]: Ernesta also celebrated the news:
[Ernesta]: They gave us the news. And, well, that made it worth all the times I left my son at home, because there are days when I go to the organization or there is a meeting. I leave them and I have to go there.
The media soon broke the news:
(Archive Sound Bite)
[Reporter]: And thousands of food delivery drivers and their families won a historic victory today in New York City with the passage of several laws that guarantee their rights and protection.
[Natalia]: By law, delivery persons now have the right to use restrooms in restaurants across the city, and apps must clearly communicate how much in tips they will receive per each delivery. And perhaps most revolutionary of all, delivery persons will be entitled to hourly pay. They won’t just depend on what customers give them.
For Gustavo and some of his colleagues, the next step is something more ambitious:
[Gustavo]: The dream is that perhaps one day we’ll have the Union of Deliveristas Unidos.
[Natalia]: And Ernesta, for her part, feels very proud of what they have achieved.
[Ernesta]: Without being a union, we have achieved a lot. Imagine: the first immigrant union at the country level.
[Natalia]: Ernesta’s community has grown and she no longer feels so lonely at work.
She, Gustavo, and the other delivery persons dared to take on multimillion-dollar companies and, against all odds, got a lot of what they were asking for, although it was always the least they deserved.
[Daniel]: As of the closing time of this story, almost all of the laws that were passed in 2021 have gone into effect. The only exception is hourly pay for delivery persons. The New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection has not yet set the amount of this payment.
Between 2021 and 2022, Ernesta became the coordinator of the women who are part of the Deliveristas Unidos. She now independently helps her community and does not belong to any group. Gustavo remains the leading founder of the Deliveristas Unidos.
Thanks to María Figueroa of the State University of New York, delivery man Manny Ramírez, and Monxo López of the Museum of the City of New York for their help with this story. Also Marco Avilés and Aaron L. Morrison from the CUNY School of Journalism. And a special thanks to all the delivery people who delivered food to Natalia while she was writing this story.
This story was edited by Camila Segura and Luis Fernando Vargas. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. Sound design is by Andrés Azpiri with music by Ana Tuirán.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Andrés Azpiri, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Rémy Lozano, Selene Mazón, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Melisa Rabanales, Natalia Ramírez, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Ana Tuirán and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.