Geared Up Los Deliveristas
Mother Jones|July/August 2021
After work conditions deteriorated, New York’s immigrant bicycle couriers united to bring a revolution to the gig economy.
By Karina Piser

ON A SUNNY SATURDAY in March, Gustavo Ajche and Ligia Guallpa welcomed two dozen food delivery couriers to a morning rally in lower Manhattan. As mimosa drinkers filled SoHo cafes’ outdoor tables, couriers lined up for hot chuchitos, Guatemalan tamales filled with chicken and beef.

Guallpa, head of the immigrant-focused Worker’s Justice Project, and Ajche, a sometime courier himself, had invited the men to learn about Los Deliveristas Unidos, an informal WJP-backed network of mostly Mexican and Guatemalan delivery workers who banded together during the pandemic. Ajche, dousing his snack in green Picamás hot sauce, pitched them on demanding better working conditions: higher wages, a commitment from restaurants to let working couriers use restrooms, and a state-financed insurance fund to replace stolen bikes.

Once everyone grabbed chuchitos, Guallpa, petite and peppy, passed out brochures and stickers with the Los Deliveristas Unidos logo—an illustration of a biker in red, with a helmet, face mask, and raised fist. Several couriers immediately stuck them on their bikes.

Meal delivery apps were a staple of American eating even before the pandemic. Ajche, a native of Guatemala, has been delivering for DoorDash, Relay, and other third-party app-based restaurant delivery companies since 2018, joining a gig workforce tens of millions strong. When he started, they promised wages up to $25 an hour. But over time, Ajche said he realized that “that’s a lie...sometimes you make 5 or 10 dollars an hour”—“in the summer, there are days that you make $50.” Apps don’t always pass along the full amount customers tip to couriers. Between maintaining his black e-bike—which he bought for $2,000, requires batteries that go for up to $600, and costs $75 to $150 a month to park in designated e-bike lots—and the time rushing between distant clients, he usually ends up with slim profits.

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