The death of a delivery worker Francisco Villalva Vitinio during an armed robbery in East Harlem earlier this week has once again brought attention to the lack of protections and rights gig workers have in the U.S.
On Monday night, shortly after 11 p.m., Vitinio, 29, was taking a break at the Poor Richard’s Playground in East Harlem, at East 108th Street and Third Avenue, reportedly in between making deliveries for DoorDash. While sitting on a park bench to eat some food, Vitinio was reportedly approached by a man with a gun who demanded he hand over his e-bike. When Vitinio refused, the man shot him in the chest and fled the scene, according to police and friends of Vitinio. Medics rushed him to the nearby Mount Sinai hospital but they weren’t able to save him.
Vitinio’s death comes amid a massive uptick in e-bike robberies during the pandemic. Delivery workers, who pay as much as $2,000 for each of these bikes, are the primary targets of these robberies. The theft of e-bikes increased from 166 in 2019 to 328 in 2020, according to police data obtained by the New York Times.
But the increase in robberies is just one part of the problem, advocates for delivery workers say. Vitinio’s death, advocates say, is yet another instance of third-party deliveries companies like DoorDash failing its delivery workers. Mario Estrada, Vitinio’s cousin, told Gothamist that his cousin was making deliveries for the company at the time of his death. Family members shared screenshots of Vitinio’s DoorDash app with Gothamist, which shows a breach of contract notice for missing a delivery that DoorDash sent him a little more than an hour before he was killed. A spokesperson for DoorDash told Gothamist that Vitinio was not, however, making a delivery for DoorDash at the time of his death.
Still, as Estrada told Gothamist, delivery workers bear the brunt of the cost of keeping their delivery work going. In addition to paying for their own bikes, workers also have to pay hundreds in ancillary costs like parking and charging their bikes and insulated backpacks for the food, while working 12-hour days and making between $300 to $800 a week on average. Workers’ bikes aren’t insured by delivery companies, which makes the threat of theft faced by delivery workers all the more worrisome.
“We do this work without any protections,” Estrada told Gothamist. “At the end of the day it’s DoorDash that’s getting all the money, while we’re the ones taking the risk on the streets.” Delivery companies have seen major gains during the pandemic as people stayed at home and both diners and restaurants were increasingly reliant on third-party delivery apps. Yet, almost none of those gains have transferred over to workers. In fact, their work has gotten significantly more dangerous during the pandemic. Aside from the added health risk of potentially being exposed to COVID-19, delivery workers aren’t provided health care or minimum wage.
A majority of delivery workers in NYC are also undocumented, which means they don’t have access to unemployment benefits, leaving them with little choice but to turn to delivery work. Delivery companies like DoorDash, UberEats, and Grubhub all say they’ve provided their drivers with added benefits during the pandemic including sanitizers, masks, gloves, access to telemedicine appointments, and sick leave for workers that contracted the virus. These companies have also come under fire for their tipping policies and have reportedly changed them as a result, yet some delivery workers that spoke with the New York Times last year said they didn’t receive their full tips, and often don’t earn the estimated $22 per hour that delivery companies say their workers earn.
In response, many delivery workers have organized in NYC in the past several months, most notably Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group that is demanding fair wages, guaranteed access to bathrooms during work hours, and sheltering places during the cold months. Vitiano’s death is now the second food delivery worker fatality in U.S. in just the last few weeks. In Washington D.C., two teens were charged with the murder and carjacking of an Uber Eats driver there last month. In February this year, a San Francisco DoorDash delivery worker’s kids were abducted in his car while he stepped out for a delivery. A controversial measure, Prop 22, was approved by California voters last year that allowed delivery companies to continue classifying its employees as independent contractors. Even as companies are not required to take on additional costs such as paying for benefits, many delivery workers say their pay has actually fallen since the measure passed in California.
In light of the increase in crimes against delivery workers, gig workers are continuing to organize to raise awareness about ongoing concerns. According to a GoFundMe page set up to cover Vitinio’s funeral expenses, his relatives say Vitinio moved to New York from Xalpatlahua, Mexico, a decade ago, and had been working directly with restaurants as a delivery worker before he lost his job during the pandemic. He turned to third-party delivery to continue supporting his family in Mexico. Los Deliveristas Unidos is holding a vigil at 5 p.m. today for Vitinio.