Investigative-minded Brooklynites are searching for a delivery worker captured in a viral video wading through waist-deep flood water while delivering grub in Williamsburg during Wednesday night’s torrential downpour — hoping to give the hard-working hero a hefty $1,700 tip.
Johnny Miller shared the harrowing video on his Twitter account @UnequalScenes after he saw the delivery man’s extraordinary effort to push his e-bike through the water at Roebling and N. 11th streets just after 10 pm.
— Unequal Scenes (@UnequalScenes) September 2, 2021
Miller, whose Unequal Scenes project aims to capture inequality around the world, told Brooklyn Paper that witnessing the worker doing his rounds during the record-breaking storm was a depressing sight for him.
“That video really captures both major crises that society is going through right now, which is inequality and climate change,” Miller said. “I don’t want to say [I felt] pity, but it was definitely a sense of depressiveness that this is what society looks like nowadays.”
Miller made about $1,700 licensing the clip to various news outlets, he said — but he wants to give it all to the worker, if he can find him.
Yet, despite a signal-boost from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and stories about the search, Miller has been unable to locate the man. Neither has Los Deliveristas Unidos, a collective of delivery workers which advocates on their behalf against abusive labor practices, which are plentiful in the industry.
“Deliveristas are out there rain or shine, or snow. They are the essential of the essential workers,” said Hildalyn Colon, Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships for Los Deliveristas. “Why are they out there on the street risking their lives. Well, they need to be out there to feed their families.”
The 50,000-strong, largely immigrant deliverista workforce toil for apps such as Grubhub, Seamless, Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates under oppressive conditions, with few labor protections under law.
Grubhub, for instance, pays delivery workers a base rate of $2 per delivery, The City reports, and the independent contractors rely largely on tips to make a living — and they often make below minimum wage.
Even as the city and the National Weather Service were urging people to stay indoors, delivery apps were increasing base pay to incentivize workers to go out even in dangerous conditions, Colon says.
“It was a bit problematic, on one side the National Weather Service is saying stay home,” she said. “And you have companies incentivized to get these people out. That was one of the issues. Right now, nobody got seriously hurt, thank god.”
Colon also said that once workers are out in the field, they can reject a delivery in the app if they so choose, but they will be penalized in the company’s internal rating system. They also must complete 95 percent of their orders or they won’t get paid, she said — and, because the food in the viral video was shown to be slightly submerged in floodwater for a bit, it’s possible the deliverista didn’t even get paid for the order, despite the man’s over-the-top effort.
Los Deliveristas have been advocating this year for a package of bills in the City Council aimed at providing protections to delivery workers in the field, including requiring restaurants allow delivery workers to use their bathroom, setting minimum per-trip payments, and standards for how workers are paid (including weekly payment, and banning fees to receive payment).
Another major point of contention is a proposal to allow workers to set distance limits on the app without getting penalized (one worker who spoke to The City said they had made just $5 on a delivery from Astoria to Brooklyn during the storm, including tip).
The Council last month voted to permanently extend a cap on fees for third-party delivery apps, but has not yet advanced the worker protection package to the Mayor for his signature.
A Doordash spokesperson said in a statement that the company moved to suspend delivery operations in some areas affected by flooding, and limiting service to pickup only, and that the company removes non-5 star ratings during extreme weather, but that there was room for improvement in its strategy, such as by suspending all ordering and disabling incentives.
“This week’s flooding in New York and the surrounding regions was tragic,” the Doordash spokesperson said. “Although we were able to pause delivery in some parts of the city as the flash flooding occurred, we should have acted more quickly and comprehensively to suspend ordering, turn off incentives to get Dashers on the roads, and communicate with all of our stakeholders. We are actively engaging our community and putting in place controls to do better going forward.”
The spokesperson did not identify whether the man in the video was working for Doordash — a “Dasher,” as the company calls its workers.
A Grubhub spokesperson said that the company hasn’t found any information indicating the man in the video is one of their drivers, said that workers’ safety was a top priority, and noted that the company shut down “locations” if the weather called for it.
“The safety of delivery workers is a top priority,” the spokesperson said. “While we always appreciate the hard work drivers put in to get the job done, no delivery worker for any company or restaurant should ever take an action that would jeopardize their safety.”
A representative for Uber Eats did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to finding the man in question, Miller hopes that the video he shot will provide some perspective to those who use delivery apps on the impacts of their consumption decisions.
“Photos or videos like that at least give people a better understanding of not what the options are,” Miller said, “but what are the results of their choices.”
Anyone with information about the man’s identity can contact reporter Ben Brachfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.