On a normal Wednesday afternoon Seattle gig workers might drop off a warm meal or groceries, but today a delegation of gig workers brought a message to city leaders: It’s time to deliver for gig workers.
That message took the form 400 to-go bags — including a 6-foot-tall bag — dropped off at City Hall by gig workers from apps such as DoorDash, Instacart, and Shipt. The workers tagged the bags with receipts that show the actual amount a driver was paid for a delivery. Some receipts showed negative amounts, indicating that the driver lost money taking the gig.
“[App-based delivery services] want the benefits of having workers without giving any of the benefits that we as a culture have decided workers deserve,” said Mikey Pullman, a driver with DoorDash. “It's the City Council's job to protect the people that live here.”
The demonstrators hoped their display would inspire the City Council to pass a new suite of protections called the "Pay Up" ordinance for gig workers, who are excluded from basic labor standards.
The gig workers want a whole bunch of basic workers' rights – everything from bathroom access to protection against discrimination – but their first priority for the City Council is a minimum payment ordinance, which would ensure minimum wage plus expenses with a per-minute and per-mile floor for the "engaged time" needed to perform each service.
A lot of time goes into a delivery. Once a driver accepts a job, they have to drive to the restaurant or store, grab the order, and drive to the customer. Michelle Balzer, a shopper with InstaCart, gave an example of a recent order: To pick up 58 items from a grocery store, InstaCart offered her $10.23, no tip. The drive alone would take Balzer 40 minutes roundtrip, and she sometimes finds herself waiting in line at busy stores for up to 45 minutes during peak shopping hours. So that $10 offer could easily be over an hour of work before Balzer even factors in the time she needs to actually find the groceries.
To make her weekly goal of $800, Balzer actively shops about 35 to 40 hours. She said she easily works another 20 hours unpaid between finding gigs and driving. That $800 does not account for the money she and other gig workers spend on gas, car payments, and repairs. Pullman said it costs about $500 a month just to drive his car for work.
The council reviewed draft legislation for this Pay Up ordinance that would require companies such as DoorDash and InstaCart to pay or ensure a worker receives a minimum payment for “engaged time” and “engaged miles.” "Engaged time" is the time that a worker performs services for an offer, and “engaged miles” are miles traveled by a worker during engaged time.
For an on-demand worker like a food delivery person, “engaged time” would begin when a worker accepts an offer, and it would end when the worker fulfills the offer. In Balzer’s case, that would include driving to a grocery store, shopping, waiting in line, and then driving to delivery. For other cases, where workers schedule a service over two hours in advance, the engaged time would begin when the worker reports to the location, and it would end when the task is done.
In the Public Safety & Human Services committee last week, central staff said that per-minute wage would be $0.39, which takes the minimum wage equivalent multiplied by 1.13 for associated cost (they have to pay for their own insurance as contractors) and 1.21 for associated time (they gotta take breaks). The payment per mile amount would be $0.79, which is based on the IRS standard mileage amount multiplied by an associated mileage factor that accounts for the fact that workers have to drive more than what is counted in engaged miles. The legislation would also provide a baseline, so that even if all that fancy math gives them a crumby rate, the worker is guaranteed $5 per run.
The council has helped out gig workers before. In 2021, they approved Mayor Jenny Durkan's "Fare Share" proposal to ensure all ride-hail drivers were paid a fair wage.
But not everyone was jazzed about the delivery driver draft legislation in the meeting last week.
Councilmember Sara Nelson, routine defender of the business interest, worried the single, wide-reaching regulation would create different impacts for companies by squeezing them into a one-size fits all framework.
She also criticized Fare Share, which she said made rides more expensive and too costly for some riders. Because of this, she said hourly compensation might have gone up, but at the cost of available work.
She said the average earnings standard for delivery drivers under Pay Up would be about 170% of Seattle’s minimum wage. Nelson’s office said this figure is the addition of the associated time factor, associated cost factor, and minimum compensation per mile.
In what has become classic Nelson fashion, she said, emphasis mine: “I am supportive of providing workers in the gig economy a livable wage. But my question is what kind of analysis has been done to anticipate the impacts of increased cost of deliveries on small businesses like the restaurants or on drivers.”
The drivers are not impressed with her statement.
“She’s parroting the same things the corporations say: ‘It's okay for us to screw people because it would cost us money if we didn't,’” Pullman said. “We already know she’s not well educated on the subject matter or she wouldn't say things like that.”
Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who has recently voted against workers with Nelson, asked about the precedent for these kinds of protections. In the vote to honor former Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto on the council’s decision to end hazard pay for grocery workers, Pedersen doubled down and voted to end it again. He wanted the workers to win these protections in their own contract.
Should he take up that stance again, Balzer said she hardly has time to lobby the council, let alone organize the gig economy.
“Drivers will see a $2 offer and just take it because they need the money,” Pullman said. “I can't expect that person to navigate creating a system that will benefit them. It'd be like showing up and expecting you as a cook to make your own kitchen before you get to work.”
He added, “This is the council’s job.”
As of Feb. 17, Councilmember Lisa Herbold's plan is to introduce the bill, which has already been discussed three times, in early March.
"Gig workers have been on the front-line during the pandemic, footing the bill for masks and other sanitizing equipment to maintain public health for themselves and their customers," Herbold said. "It’s long past time for a solution that guarantees a minimum wage, flexibility, transparency, and ensures that tips are tips and go directly to workers.”