A community board meeting this week covering a topic that seemed relatively innocuous — bathroom breaks for delivery workers — ended up in a heated debate that shined a spotlight on the difficult lives of people who work for delivery apps.
The debate took place at a Community Board 7 Transportation Committee meeting, where board member Ken Coughlin introduced a resolution that encourages restaurants to let delivery workers use the bathroom when they come by to pick up orders. For restaurants that don’t allow workers inside, there could be consequences: the decision could impact those restaurant’s liquor license applications, Coughlin suggested. Among the many challenges for people delivering food for apps is that they often don’t have anywhere to go to the bathroom during shifts that last many hours.
“This is an example of how we as a society take some of our essential workers and unintentionally treat them as something less than human,” he said.
But other board members objected to the resolution. Linda Alexander worried about restaurants that only have one stall, and need to serve their patrons. She said she supports New York offering public bathrooms. “We live in one of the few cities in the world that doesn’t have public facilities. And that’s crazy. That’s really where this conversation should be directed,” she said. She also thinks the delivery app companies should have to pay the restaurants for extra staff hours to take care of Covid protocols.
Board member Barbara Adler said she thinks restaurants should let people use the restroom, but they shouldn’t be forced. “You can’t force a restaurateur to use the bathroom if they’re absolutely opposed to it,” she said. “The whole thing is asinine.”
Board member Howard Yaruss suggested they take out the language about the liquor licenses, so it’s simply a request without potential consequences. But the board once again opposed it, and Coughlin ended up tabling it for now.
The meeting video is here, and the discussion starts around 52 minutes in:
Streetsblog reported first on the meeting, with the headline “Supposedly Progressive Upper West Side Offers No Relief to Deliveristas”. Then Vice wrote the story “Manhattan Community Board Calls Giving Gig Workers Bathroom Access ‘Crazy'”.
Adler told WSR that the coverage left out the context of her comments, and that she wants to talk with the people directly affected by the rules at the next meeting.
“I said loud and clear that I thought delivery people should be allowed to use the restrooms, and that it’s only common decency,” she wrote in an email. “My concerns were about the poor wording of the resolution, safety issues regarding Covid, and making sure that we have input from all the stakeholders including the public, workers and businesses. What was conveniently left out is that we agreed to continue this discussion and have all the stakeholders present at the next meeting.”
Some of these issues may end up being addressed by citywide legislation. This week, bills were introduced in the City Council to deal with this issue. “The bills would require restaurant owners to guarantee the delivery workers — who have organized under the banner of ‘Deliveristas’ — access to their bathrooms so long as it poses ‘no health or safety risk,'” the Daily News reported.
Sara Lind, a Community Board 7 member who supported Coughlin’s resolution, put out a statement about the issue on Thursday chiding her fellow board members. Lind is running for City Council. The language in her statement was critical of Borough President Gale Brewer, who is running for City Council against Lind. Without naming her, it goes after Brewer for her choices of who is on the community board.
““The Borough President has oversight of the community board, and members are appointed by the Borough President and Councilmembers. This is why it is so important that we elect leaders who are willing to stand up for what’s right. As your Councilmember, I will prioritize recruiting people that have been underrepresented, like the essential workers who have put their lives on the line for us through this pandemic.”