Outrage flared in New York City in September after a video captured a food delivery worker walking a bike through waist-deep flood waters during Hurricane Ida. Food delivery workers, a predominantly immigrant workforce, face physical threats at almost every turn — be it weather, car and bike accidents, or theft.
Soon after the hurricane, the New York City Council voted in favor of a package of legislation that will improve working conditions for food deliverers, from low wages and tip transparency to access to restrooms. But the new law doesn’t address workers’ physical protection.
Sergio Solano Marcos, a New York City delivery worker who immigrated from Mexico 17 years ago, said he was happy to see the new legislation pass, but is hoping for more. Last November, Marcos helped to create an open Facebook page where delivery workers could post pictures of their missing or stolen bikes, spread details of recent road accidents, and encourage one another to wear helmets and equip their bikes with the proper lights for nighttime riding. The page, dubbed El Diario de los Deliveryboys en La Gran Manzana, or “The Daily of the Delivery Boys in the Big Apple,” now has nearly 30,000 followers.
Bike theft has been on the rise throughout the city, particularly of the expensive e-bikes used for deliveries, which can cost thousands of dollars. One survey from the Workers Justice Project and the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations found that of 500 food delivery workers in New York City, the majority had experienced bike theft. This summer on the El Diario Facebook page, reports of bike theft on the Willis Avenue Bridge jumped — a particular concern to Marcos and his relatives, who live together nearby the bridge, given Willis Avenue is a crucial artery for delivery workers making their way between Manhattan and the Bronx. According to Marcos, the closest alternative, the Third Avenue Bridge, does not have passable or safe bike lanes; meanwhile, Marcos’s requests for surveillance footage of the bike lane on the Willis Avenue Bridge have gone unanswered by the NYPD. Feeling fed up with seemingly unending danger and little support from the police, Marcos and his relatives embarked on a mission: offering protection to delivery workers crossing the bridge.
Every evening since June 15, Marcos and his relatives have gathered at the corner of 125th St. and 1st Ave. to facilitate group crossings. They instruct riders to pause at the corner and wait for a group of five or more to form, which Marcos says only takes a few minutes. Once a group has assembled, the Deliveryboys send them on their way, often tracking their locations and maintaining contact via WhatsApp. From there, the groups part ways to their respective drop-off and pick-up locations. Marcos and other Deliveryboys work two shifts these days — one delivering food, and the other, helping ferry fellow workers from one borough to the next — and Marcos says he can already see a difference.
What does a typical day look like for you? Take me through it, step by step.
When I wake up, the first thing is I have body pain, so I have to wait a little bit to relax. The streets are not in good condition, so sometimes we have pain from that. Especially in our hands.
I make a Spanish breakfast, and then when I’m ready, I have to make sure my [bike] battery is fully charged. I make sure [I have] my helmet, I make sure my phone is at 100 percent. I have to check that my bicycle is okay — that everything is working okay. And then when I leave, I have to think of where and when to start.
The apps give me 35 seconds to decide if I want to take [an order] or not. I’m thinking in 35 seconds, and mostly, they send me far. [Yesterday], they sent me all the way to Hoboken. It’s crazy. How do I get there? After July 1, they don’t allow electric bikes on the train. I can’t go. I don’t accept it.
Before, I would have gone. Because I know Jersey City, I know Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Wherever they send me, I take it.
How many hours did you work yesterday?
Yesterday, I spent 7 hours, but the apps tell me, “Oh, you worked only 4 hours.” They just count the time from when you pick up the food to the time you drop [it off]. They don’t count all the time during the lead-up.
The time does not count when you don’t have orders — you’re working, but just waiting for the orders.
Who would you say is your boss?
We call it a ghost. In Spanish, we call it a fantasma. Fantasma means we don’t know who [it is] — it’s nobody.
And with those hours, are you able to make enough money to support yourself?
Generally, yeah. I don’t make too much money, but I work long days. But right now, I don’t work as much as before. I start maybe at 11:00 a.m. and finish at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. Because I know later, it’s dangerous. But it depends on my battery too. People do bad things late in the night. Robbery, and then assault.
And in the evening, you and your family have taken on the responsibility of helping protect people from getting their bike stolen, correct?
We have heard so many stories from our guys, but nobody has [helped].
The police, they do their job, but when [the police] send [alleged thieves] downtown to the court, it’s not a heavy charge. It doesn’t help us. That’s why we started this. Because nobody has done anything for us.
And at the Willis Bridge, every night, we have 20 to 40 [volunteer delivery workers]. Whoever wants to stop for a few minutes can go with the group. Now, [the bridge] has changed. Now the people go with the group and whenever you see something [suspicious], you send a message to the group.
Now, people go and [come] back any time. It’s not like before. Before we heard so much bad news — that someone tried to steal a bike. I cross the bridge around 12:00 p.m., or 1:00 a.m., and I feel good to cross. I wait on 125th St. and two, three guys, we cross as a group.
So in a way, the organization works as an insurance policy for people where they can count on at least some sort of assistance — if not from officials, from the community. What does it mean to you to be able to work with your family members on something like this to protect other delivery workers?
We opened the Facebook page just to hear and listen and talk with everyone. Some people say, “Is this a Mexican group?” No. We welcome everyone. Everyone is our people. We know we started with the family, but when we are together, we are stronger.
You’ve had your bike stolen before. What was the moment like when you realized you were being robbed?
I saw two guys [on a] motorcycle. And then when I crossed [the street], they followed me. They just came in and they said, “Oh, this is my bike.” They pushed me. I tried to run, but they came and grabbed my hands and said, “No, give it to me, this is my bike.” That day, they took my phone, they took the bike, everything.
I was very confused, because I saw people sitting [nearby], but nobody did anything. Nobody helps you, nothing.
This is not a regular bike. The total cost for my bike right now is $2,500.
What do you want people to know about delivery workers? What do you think people often misunderstand?
I want people to understand we only want to do our job. We want people to know we did not come here to take something from somebody; we came here to do whatever we can do, and we want to do it in the best way. We came to support this city, too. We pay our rent, we pay the MetroCard, we use the bank. We want to show the people that we came to support.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
This story is the work of a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Other news organizations are welcome to publish this story as long as they adhere to these guidelines.