The city of Seattle enacted an ordinance intending to provide financial relief for restaurant owners during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the unexpected ramifications are hurting delivery workers. This article delves into the matter by obtaining insights from both restaurant owners and delivery workers.
Earlier in 2020, The Seattle City Council approved an ordinance that limits the fees third-party delivery apps can charge restaurants to 15%. This decision was driven by the need to mitigate the adverse economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on restaurants. The ordinance was seen as a lifeline as their dine-in services suffered.
However, the delivery workers who serve as the backbone of these apps, their livelihoods undermined by this ordinance, are now facing dire odds. Jinglin Wang, an independent app-based delivery worker, explains how the ordinance has resulted in increased competition amongst delivery workers, consequently reducing opportunities to make deliveries and earn income.
Wang believes that due to the ordinance, more workers have joined the already saturated market in a bid to make ends meet, making it difficult for existing workers. In the past, Wang could rely on steady orders, but now he finds himself waiting in long lines to receive orders.
The intended benefit of this ordinance for restaurants appears to be backfiring, as the lower fees charged by the delivery apps is leading to a surge in the number of restaurants using these delivery platforms. This has resulted in a flood of opportunities for the apps but has led to fewer opportunities and earnings for the workers.
Restaurant owners have questioned the effectiveness of the ordinance too. Angela Shen, owner of Savor Seattle, says that while initially seeming like a good move, the cut in delivery app fees has come with unexpected consequences for the businesses and workers alike. She voices concern over workers who're struggling to earn due to the increase in competition.
The Seattle City Council responded to the concerns raised by restaurant owners and delivery workers by maintaining that the main goal of the ordinance is to provide temporary relief to local restaurants struggling in the pandemic. They also point out that the law includes a provision that prevents delivery services from reducing compensation rates for deliveries or garnishing tips made to workers.
Despite the provision, delivery workers argue that since the enforcement of the ordinance, tips have gone down significantly. Wang says that his weekly average has dropped down by more than $100, making it harder to meet daily expenses.
Consequently, delivery workers such as Wang are often left caught between a rock and a hard place. They have no choice but to deal with the glaring disparities by working longer hours for less money in order to remain afloat, an untenable position that may leave them more vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.
Yet, despite the challenges birthed by the ordinance, many drivers continue on, fuelled by desperation, need, or driven by a sense of purpose. Some feel a call to serve the community during these trying times by bringing meals directly to residents' homes, lessening the risk of virus transmission.
Still, there is a growing sentiment among delivery workers and restaurant owners that more needs to be done on a systemic level to ensure that both can thrive. Many call for wide-reaching changes, including an increase in minimum wages for delivery workers and more robust financial support for struggling restaurants.
For now, the future of Seattle's small restaurants and delivery workers hangs precariously in the balance. While the ordinance was enacted out of a genuine desire to support restaurants, it has had unintended negative impacts on both restaurants and delivery workers, highlighting the complex nature of pandemic-era business adaptations.
What is clear, however, is the need for more comprehensive and informed measures to tackle the fallout of the pandemic on these two interconnected industries. As Wang succinctly puts it, “We need help too, not just restaurants. We need survival money.”
The current situation underscores the importance and the urgency to find an equitable balance where restaurants can continue to keep their doors open and delivery workers can earn a living wage. It is a delicate balance that calls for continuous conversation, insightful decision making, and perhaps, revised ordinances.
This ongoing struggle also brings forth the bigger question of how we, as a society, can develop more sustainable business models that can better withstand unexpected crises. This question is much larger than the city of Seattle and its ordinance, and it reaches into virtually every corner of the modern economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought numerous challenges, shedding light on the weak links in our economic chain. But it also provides an opportunity for us to reflect upon and rectify the systems that govern our society, making them stronger and more equitable for everyone involved.
Seattle's ordinance, while enacted with the intention to help, serves as a potent reminder of the often unintended and adverse consequences of attempting reforms without fully appreciating the complex dynamics at play. The situation demands immediate attention and thoughtful resolution for the sake of those caught in its wake: the small restaurant owners who are merely trying to survive, and the delivery workers who are the backbone of these restaurants.
The ordinance offers a valuable lesson to other cities as well who might be contemplating similar measures. A thorough analysis that takes into account all stakeholders involved is crucial before implementing any measure, especially those aiming to mitigate the impacts of a crisis as severe as the COVID-19 pandemic.
In conclusion, the problems faced by delivery workers and small restaurants provide an occasion not only for the city authorities, but also for all of us to ponder - How can we proceed in such a way that values and supports all the threads in the tapestry of our economy? The future of our cities and our communities cannot afford us to take this matter lightly, as the answer to these questions will undeniably shape the Post-COVID world.