Deliverers Unite in the Face of Adversity

Hundreds rally for safety and better working conditions

Deliveristas, representing their home country of Mexico, prepare to make their way downtown. (Photo by Jasmine Fernandez for NY City Lens)

While a rainstorm took hold of Times Square on Wednesday afternoon, so did New York City delivery workers, turning it into a sea of bikes, handmade signs demanding justice, and flags of their home countries — for many, Mexico and Guatemala.

Many also paid tribute to one of their own, who was fatally shot while on the job in East Harlem three weeks ago. “Justice for Francisco Villalva Vitinio,” one banner read — beneath it, the word “crime,” with a red “no” sign spray painted across it. He was 29.

Hundreds of deliverers, unfazed by harsh weather conditions, biked for three miles downtown to Foley Square, the destination of the march, as droplets of rain covered the streets, and them. Some slipped into the impermeable gear they often work in, while others kept going, relying on the shelter of their helmets.

“When it rains a lot, it is quite difficult,” 19-year-old deliverer Samuel Lopez said. “But we work. We cannot be scared, because we have to work.”

Samuel Lopez, 19. (Photo by Jasmine Fernandez for NY City Lens)

Lopez, originally from Guatemala, has been delivering food to New Yorkers for two years now. Throughout this time, he’s noticed a few things. Tips are sometimes stolen by restaurant staff — deliverers say, and they can tell when they see a customer tip on the receipt, but later find it is missing when they check the delivery applications by which they are employed. Police, when called about an assault, will often ask so many questions that the thief is long gone by the time the call ends. And restaurants they deliver for will often charge $3 to grant restroom access, or not allow the “deliveristas” to enter the premises, at all.

“To me, this is not okay,” Lopez said.

The march, which most did by bike but could have opted to complete by foot, was led by “Los Deliveristas Unidos,” — The United Deliverers — a new group created by the Worker’s Justice Project, which is a Brooklyn non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of low-wage, immigrant New Yorkers. It is composed mostly of immigrant food deliverers fighting for their rights. Specifically, those who marched on Wednesday did so in hopes of safer policies, more protection, and improved working conditions.

Deliveristas want justice for their fallen comrade. (Photo by Jasmine Fernandez for NY City Lens)

For the last eight months,  the members of “Los Deliveristas Unidos” have congregated and come up with a clear set of demands for New York City legislators: crime-preventive measures regarding their work, access to all restaurant bathrooms, permission to view receipts and verify tip amounts, the ability to set limits on the distance and weight of deliveries, and termination of the suspension and deactivation that can be brought upon workers through the delivery applications such as DoorDash and Grubhub.

Many deliverers also are calling for police to be more understanding of the work that they do. Taking their calls and complaints in a more professional manner would be a start, some say.

“Sometimes you tell them that someone is trying to rob a bicycle, and the first question they ask you is, ‘is it yours?,’” delivery worker Juan Carlos Huerta Villa said, describing calls to police. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s mine or not. There’s something happening, you’ve got to do something about it.”

But if the reported bike does not belong to the caller, and nobody is being hurt in the process of its theft, police won’t pursue the case, Huerta Villa added. And that’s one of his main reasons for marching on Wednesday — with the goal of summoning more help during situations, such as these, when a deliverer can be helpless on his or her own.

For Virginia Verdin, 56, Wednesday’s march was about claiming justice for those who’ve been hit, robbed, and humiliated — by not being permitted to use a restroom, for example — while working. Verdin, who’s been a DoorDasher for about a year, is one of the few women in the field. She also marched in honor of Vitinio’s life, which was taken after a failed attempt at robbing his electric bike.

To avoid cases like Vitinio’s, the “deliveristas” will sometimes pair up in teams of two or three, so that if anything happens, they will have somebody who will know to check on them, Verdin said.

Juan Carlos Huerta Villa, 46. (Photo by Jasmine Fernandez for NY City Lens)

Huerta Villa, 46, is a chef-turned-deliverer. Four months ago, he started delivering for DoorDash and Relay. The only problematic encounter he’s had, so far, was when he was once around 8th Avenue, and several kids attempted to take the food he had on him. Luckily for him, the client he was delivering to was willing to walk downstairs to pick up her food.

Not all customers are as understanding, though.

“When we take the train, people sometimes insult us,” Lopez, the deliverer from Guatemala, said. “They do not want us going on the train. But if we go to their house by bike, we risk being assaulted or facing a group of thieves, and we cannot do anything about it.”

Deliveristas heading home on the subway. (Photo by Jasmine Fernandez for NY City Lens)

After roughly two hours of biking through intermittent rain, demonstrators stopped traffic downtown as they rushed into Foley Square. Their bike horns and tunes from a band marching with them were the only sounds louder than their chants. Once assembled, encircling the park’s statue, former and current “deliveristas” shared their stories, obstacles, and requests. A minute of silence was also held, in remembrance of fallen delivery workers, 10 of whom were named.

“We have some names, but there are many more that have been killed on the streets,” said Lorena Kourousias, executive director of Mixteca — a Brooklyn-based organization supporting Latino immigrants, that joined the march in solidarity. “There hasn’t been justice for them, and we are just tired of witnessing what is happening.”

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