Delivery Workers Fed Up With Police Harassment and ‘Illegal’ Bike Seizures

Delivery worker Ricky Juarez (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

In New York City, food delivery workers on bicycle are required to wear a protective helmet and a reflective vest with their information and that of the restaurant for which they work. State law prohibits the use of electric bikes.

Although the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) rules state that workers should not be subjected to fines or penalties stemming from those laws, which should be paid for by the businesses who hire them, the law is not being followed to the letter and hundreds of workers are being unfairly criminalized.

(…) Advocates consider that a misinterpretation of the law has turned workers into victims of harassment and persecution by the NYPD, whose officers are imposing heavy fines on workers instead of making restaurants accountable and telling them to explain the rules to their employees and provide them with adequate equipment.

“[The police] are always prowling around, waiting for one of us to pass by so they can stop us and fine us,” said Ricky Juárez, who has been working for more than 10 years as a delivery worker for Manhattan restaurants. “I think they’re going overboard, they should give us a break because it’s not only the tickets; they are also taking away our bicycles. Tthen people can’t go to work and it’s too costly to get them back.”

The Mexican immigrant, who doesn’t wear a helmet and doesn’t have a vest with the information of the Union Square restaurant that hired him, admits that he didn’t know that their employers are responsible for giving him those items, and that they should be charged for the ensuing fines. (…) It is estimated that there are between 25,000 and 50,000 delivery workers in the Big Apple.

“From what I see, the police are fining us delivery workers all the time, and not the restaurants. And even though I know that I would be better protected with a helmet I don’t use it because I don’t like it. It’s too heavy and, well, if God takes care of me why should I use it?” said Juárez, who admits that in the rush to deliver food to homes he has fallen from his bike more than once.

Juan Martínez, who works for a restaurant in Astoria, Queens, says that in that area the police is always “on the lookout” for delivery workers. The restaurant that employs him – which he prefers not to name to “avoid trouble” – did provide him with a helmet, bicycle lights and an identifying vest. However, when officers took away his e-bike his restaurant was not fined. Nor did they help him to pay the $500 he says it cost him to recover the bike, and they even told him that he would lose his job if he didn’t get another bicycle.

“Restaurants do not want to assume those costs, and even though the police says that e-bikes are illegal in New York, many of us use them because the restaurant themselves require them so we can deliver the food faster. So you are left between a rock and a hard place, because if you use an e-bike you risk a fine or losing it, and if you don’t, you lose the gig,” said the 32-year-old Guatemalan. (…)

“When you bring the ticket to your boss, they say that it’s your name that appears on the ticket, not the restaurant’s, and why would they pay for that, and they kind of have a point,” added Martínez. “It’s on the police to do their job right and to stop chasing us like criminals and start fining the restaurants.”

Claudia Corcino (left) and Flor Jimenez (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

“(…) Unfortunately, the police are stigmatizing and criminalizing workers instead of fining employers who fail to meet their obligations,” said Claudia Corcino, an activist for biker and delivery worker rights and founder of Ciclistas Latinoamericanos de New York, which has urged the legalization of e-bikes to prevent delivery workers from being abused.

“The problem is that very often those young people do not know the law, or do not speak the language because they arrived recently. The police are fining delivery workers because they are an easy target. It is either a case of ignorance of the law or a clear act of marginalization. It is urgent to have more informative and educational campaigns for all parties,” said the activist.

On April 29, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit demanding the NYPD and the de Blasio administration enforce the law and stop penalizing workers who use e-bikes.

(…) Legal Aid Society lawyer Anthony Posada said that delivery workers pay fines of up to $1,500, and that 2,400 bicycles have been seized since 2014. He added that the more than 100 delivery workers they represent shows that these are not isolated events and that there is an overstep of authority based on the delivery workers’ profile, most of them Latino and Asian immigrants.

“We’re only asking for the law to be enforced, because we are seeing an element of vulnerability and marginalization. If those people were white legal residents, with good language skills and knowledge of their rights, things would be much different, so it’s hard to believe all of this is accidental,” said Posada.

(…) State sen. Jessica Ramos and Assembly member Nily Rozic introduced a bill to legalize e-bikes and scooters.

(…) “For many of my neighbors, who are immigrant delivery workers, using alternative transportation means is a matter of livelihood,” said the Queens senator. “Especially because we have not yet restored the right of all to a driver’s license, legalizing e-bikes and scooters is a matter of equal access to our streets and our city.”


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