IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Seattle Considers Measures to Address Gig Worker Pay, Rights

"Pay Up" is a developing package of council policies that would improve wages, transparency and other working conditions for gig workers, who work as contractors for app-based companies like DoorDash.

Seattle_shutterstock_248838679
(TNS) — Since 2017, Jay Reeves has been working as a delivery driver for either Postmates or DoorDash, working, at times, seven days a week.

But recently, Reeves has taken on a traditional job and reduced his hours driving for DoorDash to avoid sporadic wages and tips.

"Sometimes it's just a little insulting and I can't make sense of taking orders for that little money," said Reeves, who added that he's made more than 5,000 deliveries in about five years of driving for the apps in Seattle and Renton.

According to Reeves — who, along with other gig workers and the labor advocacy group Working Washington, has been calling for increased wages and labor protections in Seattle — the once flexible and lucrative structure of app-based work is becoming less reliable.

So in response, the Seattle City Council will vote Tuesday on the first in a series of pending policies that would ask app-based companies to "pay up."

"Pay Up" is a developing package of council policies introduced by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis last summer that would improve wages, transparency and other working conditions for gig workers like Reeves, who work as contractors for app-based companies like DoorDash.

"Through the pandemic and up until now it's been very hit or miss, whether it's worth even taking orders once you pay for gas and spend all that time driving and waiting," Reeves explained, noting a dependency on tips.

"Last week I drove about 10 hours and made $200 for 23 orders between Monday, Tuesday [and] Wednesday, which isn't the worst," he said. "Customer tips ended up being about $109 of that. So when that's more than half of your earnings, coming from optional tips, you can't rely on making any real money."

Herbold said in March that the city cares about workers of all sorts having fair compensation and access to reimbursement for costs associated with doing their jobs.

"And this is our way of making sure companies are responsible for making that happen," Herbold said.

On Tuesday, the City Council will vote on the first in a series of planned bills under Pay Up, which, if passed, would require companies to pay per-minute and per-mile rates to delivery drivers on apps like DoorDash, UberEats and Grubhub. The rates would begin when drivers accept an order, in an effort to help the drivers — who are contract workers, not employees — earn the city's $17.27 minimum wage and receive the standard mileage reimbursement set by the Internal Revenue Service.

In a statement Friday, DoorDash criticized the council's proposal, calling for an impact study to be completed before the council takes a vote on any part of Pay Up.

"This proposal is untested and hasty, and will lead to higher costs for customers, fewer orders for Seattle's local businesses, and reduced earnings for Dashers. We've long supported efforts to increase Dasher earnings, and know that in Seattle, Dashers earn on average over $28 per hour they're on a delivery," a DoorDash spokesperson said in an email.

While the company touts supporting some similar legislation in other areas — including a controversial 2020 proposition in California — the spokesperson said that, despite more than a dozen stakeholder meetings and over 12 months of deliberation, Seattle's council had not given companies appropriate consideration.

"To date, over 16,000 customers contacted the City Council to oppose this policy because it would increase delivery costs by as much as $5," the statement continued. " City Council must listen to these concerns and slow down before they pass policy that will ultimately hurt the people they aim to help."

In the last month, DoorDash has ramped up marketing against Pay Up by warning consumers about "higher food delivery costs," "fewer earning opportunities" and "lost revenue for businesses."

The 16,000 customers referenced by DoorDash came from a pop-up in their app posted in early May that warned customers that the legislation could result in the company increasing delivery costs and prompting them to "take action" against the proposal.

"These apps never promised anyone a full-time job or a certain wage, and you can make really good money if you have common sense to take the right deliveries and shop in the right areas," said Jason Renek, a West Seattle Instacart shopper, after two years of shopping through the app.

"I'm able to work full time through the app and make about $30 per hour right now," Renek said, "but if this passes and that changes, I'll go to Burien or something to shop.

"Everyone's going to come to Seattle because they think they can make more money shopping here, but customers are going to stop using the app when it gets more expensive and then we won't have enough orders around here to get any work."

According to Herbold, the onus should fall on the companies to find a sustainable business model that allows workers to make a fair wage.

"This is an expensive city to live and work in and if paying employee subminimum wage is the only way that businesses can sustain their model, then there should be some consideration about whether or not their business model really works," Herbold said, noting that DoorDash reported nearly $5 billion in revenue in 2021, up 69% over 2020.

"I don't think that paying minimum compensation is a threat to their business model."

Future legislation

Lewis backed an amendment by Councilmember Alex Pedersen that will cut certain workers from the compensation requirement. Those app contractors work and set their own rate for a specified task. The language targets apps like Rover and TaskRabbit, through which someone can be scheduled in advance to walk a dog, run an errand or assemble furniture.

The amendment excludes those workers. It passed 3-2 with Pedersen, Lewis and Councilmember Sara Nelson voting in favor.

"It's my understanding that a single piece of legislation attempting to regulate so many different technology applications at one time has never been implemented in the nation, so I want to make sure we're being very careful not to stifle innovation, flexibility [or] benefits to consumers, workers and small local businesses," Pedersen said Tuesday, noting he does generally support a minimum wage for gig workers.

While co-sponsor Herbold said that she was "disappointed" by the exclusion of marketplace workers, Lewis said it was a necessary distinction, like the separation of delivery drivers from previous bills regulating transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, which provide passenger transportation rather than deliveries.

"We can't cover everything in one bill. If we could, we would have covered all of this when we did the TNC legislation over a year ago," Lewis said Friday, noting that marketplace workers preschedule and negotiate the rates for their orders, while delivery drivers accept orders on demand.

"The business models are so different, and the inequities are so different, that it warrants building a different set of regulations that are bespoke to [each] business model," Lewis said.

Specifically, Lewis says that the difference between wages and expenses for on-demand delivery drivers — who are expected to use a vehicle and accept specific orders — are different from those of marketplace workers who may commute for their prescheduled tasks and set their own rates.

"So that being the case, I felt comfortable dividing these out, especially given that we never said we were going to fix every problem in this bill," he added, noting that changes proposed in Tuesday's bill will likely take until next year to get through the Office of Labor Standards and go into effect.

"It's not like Wednesday some workers are going to have these protections and others aren't," he said. "There's still a lot more legislation to come."

While Instacart declined to answer specific questions, a spokesperson for the company said Friday that the amendments were a step in the right direction.

"While we appreciate the Public Safety and Human Services Committee's changes to the ordinance, we do not think these amendments go far enough. As written, this ordinance will drive up costs and restrict access to trusted delivery platforms for Seattleites who rely on them for food and essential products, hurt local grocers, and limit earnings opportunities for the 12,000 Seattle Instacart shoppers," the statement read, also calling for the council to commission an impact study like that requested by DoorDash.

Herbold and Lewis have long planned to divide their list of hopeful gig economy regulations into a series of council bills, with Tuesday's wage vote leading the way.

In future "Pay Up" bills, Herbold says the council will aim to regulate a series of transparency and equity issues, including right to access restrooms, discrimination protections and protections from unfair deactivation from apps that can result in wage loss.

Talisha Herald shops for Instacart part time around Queen Anne and South Lake Union, on the side of running her own personal shopping company POPPY SHOP.

"If I have open windows where clients haven't booked an order with me, I fill that time with Instacart," Herald said, noting she works about 10-15 hours for the app each week.

"And I much prefer to work for my business because I get to schedule ahead and maintain the same clients, where with Instacart there's a lot of sitting around waiting for batches and you run the risk of not making any actual money, especially if you get deactivated," she said.

In January, Herald says she was deactivated from Instacart for three weeks after trying to get approved for two days of sick and safe time after contracting COVID-19.

"I was like this is crazy. My account was deactivated because I asked for sick pay because I got COVID," Herald said. "And it just was really sad because I was like, whoa. Having COVID already is a hardship enough, then to have been treated that way and unable to earn in that time was insane."

Herbold says the future bills would help bring the workers to the same standard of most employees.

"We want to make sure that nonemployee contract workers have the same protections as employees," Herbold said.

© 2022 The Seattle Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


IIJA & ARP Broadband Funding

Cisco is helping communities like yours bridge the digital divide to power a more inclusive future for all. Our experts in mass scale infrastructure, community broadband, and security can help you get started today at www.cisco.com/go/digitaldivide.