RELIEF! Council Bill Would Let Delivery Riders Use Restaurant Bathrooms

Deliveristas rally at City Hall Park for the right to use the bathroom at restaurants where they pick up deliveries. Photo: Dave Colon
Deliveristas rally at City Hall Park for the right to use the bathroom at restaurants where they pick up deliveries. Photo: Dave Colon

Try to flush this one, CB7.

A new bill by Council Member Carlina Rivera would give dignity and bladder relief to deliveristas by requiring restaurants to allow the city’s delivery riders to use the bathrooms when they pick up food orders through third party apps.

It’s an issue that came to light late in 2020 when the city’s delivery riders organized and issued a series of demands for better wages and safer working conditions, but returned to the headlines this week after Streetsblog reported on a resolution to allow workers to use the bathroom was shot down by a community board on the supposedly progressive Upper West Side.

“We’ve all been talking for well over a year about essential workers, and I think it’s fair to say that delivery workers have been some of the most essential in our city,” Rivera said at a rally at City Hall Park on Tuesday afternoon. “For over a year, they have put their lives at risk to provide for their families, and keep millions of New Yorkers fed throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic.”

IN HIS OWN WORDS: A DELIVERY WORKER SPEAKS!

Under Rivera’s bill, restaurants would be required to give bathroom access to delivery workers picking up food to deliver, although it would exempt restaurants whose bathrooms would require delivery workers to walk through a kitchen or food prep area. Some details still need to be worked out, but the bill will likely set up a fine that would be triggered by worker complaints.

Rivera’s bill is an attempt at a legislative fix to a problem that has so far been dealt with by the restaurant industry asking its business to remember to respect the basic human needs of people delivering for apps like Uber Eats and GrubHub.

As anyone who’s spent time outside during the pandemic knows, the city’s lack of public bathrooms makes for uncomfortable experiences when you’ve spent even a few hours outside. But on Tuesday, deliveristas shared stories of restaurant employees going as far as demanding that the workers purchase something in order to use the bathroom, even as the delivery cyclists worked ten or twelve hour shifts outdoors in sometimes miserable conditions.

“This is a job like any other job, it deserves respect,” said Pepe, one of the deliveristas at the rally. “Imagine going around the city not being able to use the bathroom all day, especially when it’s cold outside.”

Bathroom access turned out to be a particularly hot flashpoint at that Community Board 7 meeting earlier this month after board member Ken Coughlin introduced a non-binding resolution that would have asked restaurants to allow app delivery workers to use the bathroom when they pick up food. Coughlin’s fellow Transportation Committee members reacted as if he pulled a gun on them, calling the non-binding resolution “crazy” and “embarrassing” and suggested it was an attack on restaurant owners.

The lack of respect for delivery workers at the meeting, which is mirrored across the city, is central to advocates’ support for the bill.

“This is one of the communities that has been unrecognized, that has been ignored, that has been unprotected not just during the pandemic, but before it,” said Ligia Guallpa, the executive director of the Worker’s Justice Project. “These are humble people are working people, migrant New Yorkers, who are organizing in every corner of our city, to reclaim their humanity and to dignify their labor in the most powerful city of this nation.”

Rivera’s bill, part of a package of legislation that includes bills from Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Justin Brannan, Brad Lander and Margaret Chin to regulate worker pay, equipment and delivery trip length, will be introduced at the Council’s stated meeting on Thursday and will likely receive a hearing before June, she said.

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