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Supposedly Progressive Upper West Side Offers No Relief to Deliveristas

Pissing contest: Ken Coughlin, who presented the resolution, is second from left on the top row.

Piss off!

A group of community board members on the supposedly progressive Upper West Side resoundingly opposed a common-sense (and non-binding) resolution that would have encouraged restaurant owners to allow delivery workers to use the bathroom when they arrive to pick up food orders — with one board member calling the measure "awful," another calling it "crazy" and a third dubbing it "punitive" to restaurants.

Community Board 7 Transportation Committee member Ken Coughlin had introduced the resolution — which he called "Let Our Workers Go!" — at a committee meeting on April 13 (the discussion begins at 52:10 of this video). The text of the resolution sought to clarify the stresses faced by delivery workers, who often must ride quickly from restaurant to customer and back again on dangerous roadways for low wages.

"Adding to these hazards, many food delivery workers complain that the restaurants they pick up deliveries from are denying them access to the restaurant’s restrooms," the resolution stated. "Given New York City’s dearth of public restrooms, this leaves delivery workers few if any legal options to relieve themselves or to wash their hands."

It quoted one delivery worker from a 2020 article in The City: “We’re what’s driving their income right now,” the worker said of the restaurants he was helping to keep in business during the pandemic. “But they discriminate against us. We can’t use their bathroom. They cast us aside and ignore us. ... They treat us like we’re insects.”

As such, Coughlin's resolution called on "all restaurants in our district that use app-based deliveries to allow delivery workers picking up from that restaurant unrestricted use of the establishment’s restroom facilities."

And if they don't allow it? Coughlin said that the restaurant's behavior should be considered when the same eatery comes back before the board to seek (non-binding) support for its liquor or sidewalk cafe license.

"They risked their lives for us over the past year, so we didn't have to risk our lives going outside," Coughlin said of the deliveristas. "They deserve better. We need to start treating them as if their lives and their working conditions mattered. And bathroom access is good a place as any to start."

Coughlin's fellow board members — all residents of neighborhood that prides itself on its progressive history and whose election districts voted for Joe Biden over then-President Trump by margins of 75-95 percent — pounced on the resolution with surprising, well, resolve.

"I was horrified when I read this resolution. ... It's horrifying on all levels," said Barbara Adler, who is best known to Streetsblog readers for her prior support for more enforcement by the NYPD in Central Park days after the George Floyd killing. "This resolution is embarrassing to CB7. This is not something we want out there. Just awful. ... You can't force a restaurateur to let someone use the bathroom if they're opposed to it. The whole thing is asinine."

Fellow board member Josh Cohen used the word "crazy" three times. And Linda Alexander blamed the city and third-party apps such as Grubhub and Uber Eats, but declined to call out the role of restaurateurs in the problem. They're just small businessmen and -women trying to get by, Alexander said, and cleaning bathrooms is too much to ask.

"Most of the restaurants in this neighborhood have one or two stalls at the most and those are to serve their patrons," she said. "Those third-party delivery apps should be responsible. ... To sit here and say, 'Oh, the big bad restaurants aren't giving them access' — it's not that simple."

Alexander never actually explained what is so complex about a non-binding resolution to mere ask restaurants to allow workers to use the bathroom, saying that the city needs to build public bathrooms (which it has spent about 30 years steadfastly not doing) and that the app companies should rather be encouraged to pay restaurants to clean their bathrooms in the event that delivery workers are allowed to use the restrooms.

Coughlin was mostly silent during the debate, but at one point he was exasperated by what he heard.

"You would think we are talking about a different kind of human being," he said, prompting more criticism from Alexander.

Only Sara Lind, a board member who is running for City Council, overtly defended Coughlin, telling Alexander that the measure "is not demonizing the restaurants," but merely treating workers with respect.

"These workers are stuck without restrooms," she said. "We need to take a serious look at this. It's a really serious human rights issue."

In the end, the committee so effectively ganged up on Coughlin that he agreed to table the measure until a proper hearing could be held to allow restaurateurs, app developers and even deliveristas to testify about the situation before the board takes action.

Afterwards, Coughlin was reflective.

"I have no idea what the big deal is," he said of his straightforward resolution (which is only advisory anyway). "I think the 'big deal' is that they don’t want restaurants to be forced to allow delivery workers to use their bathrooms, for reasons I can only speculate on at this point."

He declined to answer a question about whether he felt his fellow board members had been abusive to him — indeed, language such as "crazy" has no place in public discourse — but said he was pleased that the board's Business and Consumer Issues Committee would take up the measure next month.

"I want to keep the focus on getting to the bottom of what the objections are, and then find a way to give hard-working deliveristas restroom access," he said.

There may be a citywide resolution to this question long before Coughlin's resolution is re-heard. A City Council source told Streetsblog that Council Members Justin Brannan (D-Bay Ridge), Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park) and Carlina Rivera (D-Lower East Side) are working with the Workers Justice Project on a package of delivery workers rights bills that includes excretory relief.

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