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Caroline Burke / Gavel Media

Food Delivery Services and Their Exploitative Nature

Companies like UberEats, DoorDash, and GrubHub have recently risen to prominence within the foodservice realm, opening up opportunities for employment and economic advancement while also entering an untapped market that can readily be exploited. It’s relatively new, bringing forth a never-before-seen glimpse into the future capabilities of technology and “be your own boss” labor. These companies are good at what they do, as they have built their brand behind a curtain that shrouds this stressful, low-wage, and dangerous work with a facade of independence, freedom, and placidity. While we, customers and employees alike, believe in this seemingly rejuvenating system, it truly is just a modern form of exploitation that preys on the working class.

When you look at the “Become a Driver” sections of the big three’s (UberEats, DoorDash, and GrubHub) websites, you’ll find the basic recruiting practices of any large company. Playful graphics, floating text bubbles, simple language, and even an FAQ section if you’re still confused. Just another quick search will find that these three sites are eerily similar to that of the US Army’s recruitment homepage. It makes sense. All four of these entities need some way to entice new people to fund their greedy ventures, and this practice has proven most effective.

What’s disappointing is that this works. Of course, I am not putting the workers at fault, as many of them are desperate for any source of income. Instead, I place the blame on these companies. They know the utter desperation, the unfortunate need for the currency that guides every aspect of our lives, and they knowingly take advantage of this. These workers are forced into difficult situations in which they must choose livelihood over liveliness.

I know a few friends who have driven for these services, and while the sporadic income is suitable for a college student who still lives with their parents, it is definitely not enough to gain and maintain economic independence. Every aspect of one’s earnings is arbitrary and dependent on a myriad of factors. Base pay relies on order popularity, distance and time; promotions can be earned if conditions are deemed “challenging” by the service; and tips, as one knows, vary as much as the stock price of these growing companies. It’s a game of chance, a blind roll of the dice.

On the occasion that a driver makes enough money, they subsequently have other costs to worry about. Gas and car maintenance are the two most obvious. However, the insurance required to do this job is an overlooked and expensive factor. Since you now use your car for business, your insurance company needs to know in order to adequately change your rates. Now, you’re paying much more for car insurance than you used to, and none of it is covered by the company you work for. 

If you don’t choose to cover your car appropriately, the potential accidents that you face will only prove more detrimental to your bank account. Therefore, you are forced to make the difficult decision of paying more money to insure your car or take the risk to save as much as you can, all thanks to the exploitative company that you work for.

Expenses aside, the actual work that these jobs entail is utterly grueling. Driving to and from house to restaurant to apartment to diner to dorm to convenience store is nothing short of exhuasting. Sure, you get to listen to whatever music you like, but at what cost. Driving the same roads over and over again can in no way be a pleasant experience. Factor in traffic, weather, detours, and other incompetent drivers and you have a recipe for disaster. Maybe some people enjoy it, but I guarantee after a while even they get tired of it. 

Another striking observation of the circumstances within this field of work is the sense of urgency and the dire stakes involved. When a driver is “on the clock,” they aren’t given as much freedom as they think. While the “acceptance rate” of the driver does not matter, according to the companies’ sites, many drivers are still pressured to take most of the jobs thrown at them. Blogs dedicated to these workers claim that drivers are given fewer opportunities after declining too many jobs, and some even claim to have been deactivated because of it. What happened to these companies’ enticing messages of independence, freedom, and being your own boss? 

Clearly, the nature of these services is exploitative, stressful, and demanding, but how does this apply to a bunch of college students looking to work in a more professional environment? Well, students at Boston College and many other universities use these services every day without a moment's thought. Hungry students are always nonchalantly willing to order whatever they’re craving whenever they’re craving it. They never think about the other side. These drivers who are trying to make ends meet are consistently undertipped, underpaid, and overworked, and we are greatly contributing to that. 

Whenever we find it convenient for ourselves to use these services, it adversely affects these drivers while providing massive profits to the companies that abysmally pay them. Without acknowledging the dire need for reform and regulation in this new sector of commerce, we contribute to unmonitored exploitation. As with any relatively new way of doing business, measures are not in place to prevent the negative aspects of this sort of labor. Therefore, we need to do our part to recognize the struggles workers face and address them. 

A goal for all of us as college students should be to get to the dining hall whenever we can. Late hours of the night may require the use of these services, but for the most part, some sort of dining establishment is open on campus. You, or your parents, pay a lot of money for your dining plan, so why not use it?

Additionally, if you wouldn’t like driving in the conditions outside, then don’t force someone else to drive in them. It disappoints me to see a line of cars outside my dorm as torrential rain or snow pours on their windshields, their wipers unable to keep up. Drivers put their lives at risk to get you the ShakeShack that you just “had to have,” so be considerate of the lengths they go to provide you this service. 

Some may say “they chose this job, so why should I care” in response to these concerns, but for many of these drivers, this was their only option. In the same way, do some young men and women, who are predatorily recruited by the US Military, deserve to die or be injured fighting a war that has nothing to do with them? While I acknowledge that these circumstances are very different, it is still the same idea in which these employees are pawns used by their employers to ensure the highest levels of profitability. 

If all of these measures are too much for you, I only ask that you be kind and tip well. I remember witnessing a delivery driver walking around the entirety of Upper Campus in an attempt to find his customer. After trudging up the copious amounts of stairs, he returned to Hammond Street, dumbfounded. Suddenly, a student emerged from a side door of Roncalli, clad in sleepwear, ready to end the night. Without leaving the doorway, the student yelled “Hey! Over here!” forcing the already-worn-out driver to trek to the building toward the unnecessarily rude student. He handed him his food, still bidding him “good night.”    

For a student to deem a thirty-foot walk as too much for him but perfectly fine for his hard-working delivery driver shows just how ignorant we are of these workers. I can only hope that this experience was an anomaly at BC and not the norm. Unfortunately, it probably is a common aspect of these drivers' lives. 

Every day drivers face rude customers, ignorant “bosses,” toilsome traffic, and busy restaurants, yet they still push on. For some, this work is their last hope in an effort to make some sort of income, but the companies determining their income ensure it is limited. They know how they can take advantage of and exploit their employees under the guise of autonomy, and they do it well. If they won’t change, then we must change. Don’t order food every night, never order in the worst of weather, and above all, be considerate and tip them mindfully. Just remember that we are all here as “men and women for others". 

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Spends too much time on crossword puzzles. Can make a mean chocolate chip pancake. Proponent of eating the casing on brie.