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Meet Deqing Lian — A Deliveryman Trying to Make a Living in de Blasio’s New York

Chinese food delivery worker Deqing Lian spoke to Streetsblog. Photo: Jing Wang

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The city remains in the midst of a crackdown on food delivery workers, claiming (without evidence) that they are a threat to public safety. Meanwhile, the well-to-do order food via Seamless and other apps, never giving a thought to the person who delivers the food, still piping hot.

So meet Deqing Lian — one of the thousands of underpaid, overworked and barely acknowledged New Yorkers who provide this valuable service and suffer the arbitrary punishment from the NYPD. Here is his story, which I am telling as part of a documentary project on the lives of New York City delivery people:

Tell us how you came to America.

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I came in 2000. Since that point, I am always busy  working. During my first six years of life in America, I worked seven days a week, up to 16 hours per day. To pay off my debt from the snakehead [smuggler] who brought me to the U.S., I worked two or sometimes three jobs at one time in order to earn $1,000 or so per month.

How much did you owe the smuggler?

I don’t remember exactly. I owed not only the fee, but also high-interest on the debt. I paid about $800 per month for about six years. I had to pay off it off as soon as possible, otherwise, they would beat me up and hurt my family in Fujian countryside.

How did you survive on so little money?

I have no money and no time to go shopping. ... I wake up in the restaurant and sleep in the restaurant. I am not going anywhere so I don’t need to buy clothing. Often, I spent about $30 per month for personal expenses. In the hardest times, I spent only a dollar a month. At our time, in late 1990s to early 2000s, most of us came from the rural areas of the Fujian province in China. It’s very common for us to be a “slave” for five to 10 years to pay off these debts. Luckily, after I played off my debt, I was able to bring my family to New York to reunite with them after two years. So it's all worth it.

Why did you work as a deliveryman?

I don’t know any English and I have no chance to study. Working in a Chinese restaurant is my only option. Doing delivery work is a good position for a lot of us. My base salary is about $40 per day, plus tips from customers. Usually people tip me about $2 to $4 for each delivery. Many times, people forget to give tips or just give me some coins.

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What happens when there are snowstorms? The city shuts down, but you still have to work, right?

I use to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and I never take a day off, no matter whether is windy, rainy, or snowy. My wife is sick, so she is not able to work right now. I don’t mind working hard to support our family. Right now, the police are the biggest challenge for us. The police just approach us from behind, stop us, and give us tickets for reasons we don’t understand. One time, I received five tickets at one stop and I had to go to court. There was no explanation or translation. The tickets claimed I did not wear a helmet and vest, but I had them on when he stopped me. I believes that I received those tickets because I cannot speak English. I went to court to contest those tickets, but there was no translator for me the whole time. I was unable to argue my side and I didn't know what was going on. At court, they just asked me to say "Yes" or "No," and to pay $400 for those tickets.

How often do you receive tickets?

On average, I receive about a ticket every month and pay about $200 monthly in fines. To pay the fines, I have to work for free for a couple of days. That’s why lot of time, we break traffic rules to avoid contact with the police, which makes it more dangerous for us and for others. I feel like a rat on the street. We are really scared of being ticketed. We warn each other to take different routes once we see police. We are very angry about the crackdown. For us, without e-bikes, we will first lose our jobs, because we are too old to ride bicycles to make deliveries for 10 hours. Our families will be in trouble. When I ride a regular bike, I barely earn enough money to pay my rent. We won’t able to able to afford to live.

But the mayor said that the police will fine the restaurant owners instead of delivery workers.

The mayor has no idea about our work. The restaurant owners don’t care how we do deliveries. Delivery workers own their e-bikes, and thus restaurant owners will have nothing to do with ticketing. It is all on us.

jing wang

Jing Wang is a New York-based Chinese filmmaker, currently working on the documentary, “Delivery Justice.” With support from the Biking Public Project team, Wang interviewed dozens of immigrant delivery workers to personalize their stories. The film is in post-production, but needs additional financing. Wang is raising money to finish the film. Donations can be sent via PayPal.

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