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DoorDash announced a new hourly pay option — but workers say there's a catch


Workers for the food delivery company DoorDash have long said it can be hard to make ends meet. They get paid per delivery and often make less than minimum wage. DoorDash says it's gotten the message, and it's now rolling out a new hourly pay option. But as NPR's Dara Kerr reports, it is not that simple.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Delivery worker Joshua Wood says it isn't always easy to get people food. He's based in New York City and sometimes has to bike long distances. There can be mistakes with restaurants' orders. And then there's the weather.

JOSHUA WOOD: It could be a blizzard. It could be a thunderstorm. It could be hazardous smoke. And we're expected to get the food in the same amount of time as we would otherwise.

KERR: And he says DoorDash workers never really know how much money they'll make on a given day.

WOOD: The app feels like a little bit of a game. They will assign you orders. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad.

KERR: DoorDash pays its workers per delivery, and that amount changes constantly. Because the app uses an algorithm to calculate that pay, workers say it's impossible to decipher. Sometimes they get $8 for a 30-minute delivery, and sometimes it's only 3.

WOOD: You could be busting your chops off and still make less than the minimum wage.

KERR: DoorDash announced last week that workers can now be paid an hourly rate. The company says it gives workers a better idea of how much they'll make. But Jimmy Miller, who's a DoorDash driver in Washington, D.C., says that's hardly the case.

JIMMY MILLER: It's definitely not worth it.

KERR: That's because workers are only paid the hourly rate when they're on a delivery, not when they're waiting to take a new assignment. It's kind of like a grocery store cashier only being paid for when they're ringing up customers. And DoorDash workers spend an average of 20 minutes an hour waiting for orders to come in. Miller says this new hourly wage option wouldn't even cover his expenses.

MILLER: I pay for gas. Obviously, I pay for my own car. If I were to have an accident, I'm pretty sure that would come out of my own pocket, my own insurance. So it's really not enough.

KERR: DoorDash declined to explain this new pay scheme to NPR and instead emailed a blog post about it. The company says couriers can toggle between the different pay options. DoorDash started testing the system in several cities last year. A scroll through Reddit and Twitter threads for delivery workers includes comments like, it's pointless and a trap.

KATIE WELLS: My initial take was an eye roll.

KERR: Katie Wells studies gig work at Georgetown University. Her research found most delivery apps don't compensate workers for wait time.

WELLS: It's not just like you get paid for showing up. It's, you get paid when you're doing the work that we specify. And so that old adage of equal pay for equal work goes out the window.

KERR: Because the pay is unpredictable, DoorDash workers rely on tips. They can see in the app how much a customer will tip on an order and tend to cherry-pick those offers. If workers opt for the new pay system, they can no longer see that tip amount. Law professor Veena Dubal says this creates more uncertainty for workers.

VEENA DUBAL: All of this leads to not just precarious working conditions and long hours but really unpredictable, low wages.

KERR: Some cities like Seattle and New York have recently passed laws that require app delivery companies like DoorDash to pay workers a guaranteed minimum wage. Joshua Wood helped organize workers for New York's campaign.

WOOD: This is the type of change that will actually benefit the workers when it's an hourly pay rate.

KERR: Wood says he hopes other cities will follow suit because what workers really want is a sustainable wage that they can predict. Dara Kerr, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.