Council members seek city oversight for fast-grocery services
New bills would require licenses and limits for Gorillas, Getir and other “dark store” delivery operations. A supermarket union helped shape the measures.
City Council members on Thursday introduced a trio of bills that seek to regulate rapid grocery delivery apps such as Gorillas, Getir and Gopuff — and their storefronts known as “dark stores” — and promote delivery worker safety.
The measures, introduced by Council members Chris Marte (D-Manhattan) and Julie Menin (D-Manhattan) would grant the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) the authority to license and issue violations to dark stores for misleading advertising or deceptive trade practices.
Another measure would do away with apps’ guarantees that deliveries be fulfilled in 15 minutes or less, while a third would limit the loads delivery cyclists can carry.
Behind the scenes, the lawmakers had engaged for months after taking office earlier this year with a coalition of labor groups, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500.
That union – which represents workers for grocery delivery giants Peapod and FreshDirect – has done “probes” of the 15-minute grocery delivery industry, Local 1500 president Robert Newell Jr. said in a phone interview with THE CITY on Thursday. None of the start-up rapid delivery companies targeted by these proposals are unionized.
He said the proposals are “something we’re in support of 100%.”
At a City Hall press conference for the bills but not part of the discussions were Los Deliveristas Unidos, the labor group of app-based food delivery workers who last year won landmark regulations from the City Council – but who mostly toil for restaurant delivery giants like Doordash, Uber and Grubhub, not rapid-grocery delivery companies.
The voices of Getir, Gorillas and Gopuff workers were notably absent from Thursday’s announcement. But Sergio Ajche, a delivery worker and leader of Los Deliveristas Unidos, said that food and rapid grocery delivery workers share many of the same struggles.
“These apps — and there are a lot of them — act like little kids: They move fast, break things, meanwhile they’re sitting in an office while workers have to break traffic laws as they race against the clock to fulfill deliveries,” Ajche said in Spanish.
Two workers waiting for orders outside a Gopuff fulfillment center on 6th Avenue and Laight Street who spoke with THE CITY on Thursday evening shrugged at the proposals.
John, a 22-year-old who said he’d been delivering for the company for “three, four months” said he rarely gets heavy delivery orders. “Sometimes, rarely, you get maybe one or two cases of water you gotta carry. But that’s rare. They ask for small stuff,” he said.
Gilbert, a 27-year-old from Brooklyn who like John delivers on his bike, agreed with him. “He speaks for me! It’s not a big deal.”
Counting the Minutes
Speaking in front of City Hall on Thursday, Menin — who headed DCWP under former Mayor Bill de Blasio — said she “strongly believe[s] that these dark stores are making claims that violate consumer protection law.”
“They literally are saying that they’re going to guarantee delivery in 15 minutes – that’s ridiculous. It’s absurd, it’s endangering pedestrians and it’s endangering our workers,” she added, noting that workers often find themselves obligated to flout traffic laws as they rush against the clocks to deliver an order.
“It’s the dark stores, it’s these companies’ fault because they’re putting workers in jeopardy and making them rush to make these deliveries, and we’re here to say that is not okay,” she added.
Menin introduced the bill proposing licensing requirements for “dark stores,” and Marte introduced two additional bills: One doing away with the 15-minute delivery guarantees – establishing them as “estimates,” instead – and another capping the maximum weight per order at 22 pounds.
During the second half of the presser, Marte held a sign that read “Gopuff urself.”Ian Wang, Marte’s legislative director, said that the companies would be required to install scales at the storefronts to ensure orders stay below the 22-pound threshold.
A DCWP spokesperson said the agency is “reviewing” the bills.
Two of the major players in the industry — Getir and Gorillas — said they support the proposals.
“Gorillas looks forward to working with the council on a set of fair rules that continue to enable us to provide value to the lives of hundreds of thousands of everyday New Yorkers while expanding the market reach of dozens of mom and pop brands,” Alex Gabriel, a spokesperson for Gorillas, said in a statement to THE CITY on Thursday.
Nico Probst, Getir’s head of government relations, also championed the proposals, noting that the company also provides safety training and gear.
“Getir welcomes regulations around the protection of delivery riders and microfulfillment centers,” Probst said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with policymakers to ensure all our stores are not only in line with local ordinances, but also an integral part of the communities we serve.”
Nearly a dozen rapid grocery delivery start-ups flooded the New York City market and its vacant storefronts during the pandemic, promising small grocery deliveries — a six-pack of seltzer, a pack of toilet paper, a carton of eggs — in 15 minutes or less.
As opposed to Silicon Valley giants like Doordash, UberEats and Grubhub, which treat their workers as independent contractors exempt from most workplace protections, some rapid delivery apps – including Getir and Gorillas – have hired their workers as W-2 employees and even offer employee-sponsored healthcare.
Gorillas also offers employee-sponsored 401(k) plans, Gabriel said. Reps for Gopuff, another major player, did not respond to a request for comment.
‘It’s Just Chaos’
The so-called dark stores have peppered once-empty storefronts in the East Village, the Lower East Side, the Upper West Side, and other neighborhoods catering to a young clientele with disposable income.
The companies, backed with billions in venture capitalist and private equity funds, flooded social media with advertisements and coupons offering steep discounts to lure customers to their services.
The soaring demand and “confusion” wrought by a fast-paced and evolving start-up market has led to mass turnover among rapid delivery workers, Newell said.
“You know, new companies, upstarts, they don’t exactly walk in with an established playbook — rules change sometimes by the day, if not by a couple of hours,” Newell said, summarizing the union’s conversations with workers. “And you’re reacting to large numbers of delivery demand and not enough riders, or in some cases, walkers and drivers. I mean, it’s just chaos.”
The national economic slump has many investors that helped companies rapidly expand during the pandemic backing out now. Several companies — also including Fridge No More and Buyk, which were blackballed by Russian sanctions — have shuttered in recent months, while some remaining companies have made serious cuts and slashed their workforce.
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