New York food delivery workers, ignored in life, honored in death

After the marching band packed up their instruments, Sergio Solano and two other food delivery drivers walked on a white bicycle to an overpass overlooking the United Nations headquarters.

A co-worker, or companion, as they call each other, which means “companion,” He had died less than two weeks earlier, in September, in another bicycle accident on the streets of Manhattan. Delivering food has turned out to be a deadly occupation for many of them. They ride bicycles at all hours, they are hit by cars, they are at constant risk of accidents and being victims of crime.

The spray-painted bicycle paid tribute to Félix Patricio Teófilo, a Mexican immigrant who, like them, made a living pedaling to deliver food. They chained him to the metal railing near the intersection of 47th Street and First Avenue, where he met his end.

With that solemn march under the drizzle, Solano, 39, was ending a night of mourning, fulfilling what he has come to consider a mission: to illuminate in death lives that were relegated to the shadows.

“We never thought we would organize vigils,” Solano said. “That was never our goal.”

A little more than three years ago, Mr. Solano and family members who are also delivery drivers started “The Diary of The Deliveryboys in The Big Apple”, which translates as “The Big Apple Delivery Drivers’ Diary”, a Facebook page with both practical and informative objectives.

The page would act as an online support network, a space to raise awareness about bicycle thefts, traffic accidents and discriminatory encounters reported by Spanish-speaking immigrants who brave the urban frenzy to satisfy a New Yorker’s takeout cravings.

Along the way, he would chronicle the twists and turns of the work.

Shortly after the page was up and running, it became clear to Mr. Solano that the project would tell a larger story: co-workers regularly die on the job.

More than 40 have died since the page was launched in late 2020, according to Solano’s latest count.

In Mr. Patricio’s case, he hit his head on a sidewalk without a helmet in a solo crash.

Food delivery workers were briefly celebrated in New York when the Covid-19 pandemic brought life indoors and their services became critical.

Delivery apps offered viable income to those who had been laid off from their jobs or had their hours reduced, and for those whose immigration status made it difficult to obtain government aid.

As the pandemic wore on, the dangers of in-demand work became apparent. Activists formed unions and pushed for better wages and protections, an effort that continued into 2023. Under pressure, the city set a higher minimum wage for app-based delivery workers, starting at about $18 an hour in October. .

Still, the risk for many workers has gone beyond wages. On the Deliveryboys page, a series of photographs show the names and faces of the fallen.

Most of them are immigrants from Mexico or Guatemala who are part of an estimated 65,000 food delivery workers in New York City.

The job has become one of the deadliest.

TO city ​​report released November 2022 He said that the fatality rate among food delivery workers who do not use a car was 36 deaths per 100,000 workers from January 2021 to June 2022. That rate exceeded that of construction workers (seven deaths per 100,000), which had historically been the deadliest industry.

The magazine of the same name has organized funerals, vigils, death anniversaries and requiems, raised funds and digitally inscribed them in the memory of the community.

Many have died in traffic accidents while working. Some of the deaths are not work related. Others, like Francisco Villalva, have been murdered.

In March 2021, an assailant behind Villalva’s bicycle shot him in a park near 108th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan. Villalva, from Xalpatláhuac, Guerrero, in southwestern Mexico, was 29 years old.

Two days later, the page live streamed video from the scene of the murder, asking others to support the family. The family members who appeared in the video spoke both Spanish and Nahuatl, an indigenous language spoken in some parts of Mexico. (To date, the video has more than 132,000 views.) They also asked for justice.

“Unfortunately, another colleague has lost his life doing this job,” César Solano, nephew of Mr. Solano and also administrator of the page, said in Spanish, recounting the news with the cadence of a television reporter.

The number of followers on the Deliveryboys page has grown from hundreds to thousands, giving the platform some mobilization power.

“For almost a month we held protests,” said Sergio Solano. “We held vigils after vigils after vigils. People would come offering to donate food or offer live music. Every day we did something, a lot of people came.”

Mr. Villalva’s death had galvanized the community. Companions They paused their delivery apps to attend events. A Catholic priest was brought in to lead the prayers. Family and friends organized the meal. Others picked up instruments.

A group wrote to Mr. Villalva his own runa popular Mexican ballad, which tells of his journey in New York until its disconcerting end.

The killer, identified as Douglas Young, was captured and eventually convicted of murder. In April, Mr. Young, a 41-year-old man from Queens, was sentenced to serve 41 years to life in prison in state prison.

Since Mr. Villalva’s death, the page has helped ensure that each fallen comrade receives a memento, a practice that has become almost ritual, remembering the farewells of police officers killed in the line of duty.

Loved ones are the most affected by the organization, Sergio Solano said, but the page, which has 51,000 followers, draws people in.

At Mr. Patricio’s wake, César Solano, 22, live broadcast the band’s truncated sidewalk performance. Police officers who received a noise complaint were given 10 minutes to pay their respects.

Under a makeshift canopy, dozens of shelled pork tamales, slurped with pineapple atole (a pineapple-flavored corn drink) and sipped steaming pozole from flimsy foam bowls, respecting every aching note: a folkloric rendition of Chopin’s “Marche Funèbre” and traditional Mexican funeral songs like “Te vas Ángel Mío.”

Mr. Patricio’s sister, Jovita Patricio, buried her face in a friend’s chest. A tear appeared on her reddened cheek. Behind her, the light of the candles caressed the portrait of her brother, surrounded by flowers. She was his only relative in New York.

The video stream of the band’s performance garnered thousands of views. One of the musicians, Edgar Cano, had at one time worked with Mr. Patricio in a restaurant, and they both came from the same area of ​​Guerrero.

“We never know. Today or tomorrow another friend may stop by,” Cano said in Spanish, while his hat cast a shadow over his eyes.

Some find the page’s exhaustive posts invasive.

But Sergio Solano said the page’s focus and tributes honor fallen delivery drivers with “a fitting final goodbye” and give their loved ones a chance to grieve from afar. “If they loved and adored him at home, we showed that they also loved and adored him here,” he said in Spanish.

In some cases, the page broadcasts live videos of the arrival of a colleague’s body in their town. The return of Mr. Villalva, for example, was shown on a live broadcast.

Last summer, when 28-year-old Eduardo Valencia died in an accident while at work, his story also became the focus of the Deliveryboys page.

Valencia had come to the city from Guerrero as a teenager, said his mother, Guadalupe Nepomuceno. His dream was to save enough to make a comfortable living in his hometown, she said.

“He wanted to build his house, return to Mexico and never return to New York,” Nepomuceno said in Spanish.

But Valencia’s return home would be inside a coffin.

Nepomuceno, who lives in New York City, was unable to attend his son’s funeral and said his final goodbye from a small digital screen more than 2,000 miles away.

The efforts serve as recognition for people who are often ignored, Sergio Solano said.

“In the eyes of society, they do not exist,” he said. “They begin to exist when you begin to give them visibility.”

As life in the city returns to its pre-pandemic rhythms, Solano added, food delivery workers have taken a backseat.

Plant a “ghost bike”, as monuments to cyclists are known, in the place of a colleague Death is a way of talking about the contributions of delivery people and the final price that some pay.

Once Mr. Patricio’s memorial was secured, Mr. Solano and two companions They put on helmets, mounted their bikes, and crawled toward the intersection. They looked both ways for passing cars.

It was seven forty in the afternoon on a Monday. It’s time to get to work.