Do we still consider delivery drivers to be essential workers and everyday heroes or has the fascination worn off and we’re taking them for granted again? If the money they make on the job is anything to go by, many people have definitely forgotten about their struggles making ends meet during a global pandemic. But it’s not just the customers who barely tip who are the problem, it’s the delivery companies and how much they’re willing to pay who are the issue, too.
Delivery driver Smithson Michael went viral after posting a candid and emotional video telling everyone about the unseen side of his job. The driver has been working in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York for just over a year, since December 2020. And the reality of the job is that many drivers don’t even make enough to cover the costs of using their cars to get around town.
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“I just spent an hour driving around for a $1.19 tip. […] I got a $1.19 tip and two dollars from the app,” the man says on TikTok, wiping tears from his eyes. “I wish people knew what it’s like to drive for these services.”
Bored Panda reached out to Smithson to talk about working in New York as a delivery driver, his viral video, how he’s trying to help his fellow coworkers, and where he thinks the food service industry can improve for the better. He was kind enough to answer our questions.
“When I started this message, I knew it would be a challenge to be heard. I know how skeptical some can be, of anything they might see or hear on the internet. Some may not think it’s real— or that it just can’t be that bad because they might know someone that does well, or do well themselves doing it. That’s troubling because I see articles to this day of other deliverers’ bad experiences,” he shared with Bored Panda.
“I’ve seen deliverers get hit on their scooters, even some that had them stolen while they were delivering. I’ve seen some attacked and robbed, their cars stolen while delivering— doing that work is more dangerous than many might think or realize. Practically every deliverer save a few have expressed to me that they make very little compared to how much they deliver. And contrary to what some might think—they approach it as a full-time job to make ends meet. Many of them, having families.” Scroll down for our full in-depth interview with Smithson.
Scroll down for Smithson’s full viral video, as well as his follow-up TikToks, Pandas. Share your thoughts in the comments and, if you’ve ever worked as a delivery driver, tell us about your experience. If you’d like to help Smithson fight for change for his fellow delivery drivers, you can sign his petition on Change.org. Meanwhile, you can support him directly through GoFundMe, PayPal, and Venmo.
In a video that has echoed around the world, Smithson shared how difficult it is to make ends meet as a delivery driver in New York
Here is the full video
@itssmithsonmichael #helpme #ubereatsdriver #traction #positiveforce ♬ original sound – Smithson Michael
Smithson told Bored Panda that he’s seen a lot of people telling him and other delivery drivers to find another source of income and to quit their current jobs. “That would be devastating to many that need the services, or just enjoy the convenience of being able to have foods delivered to them.”
Meanwhile, some internet users have been very mean and even insulting, making a lot of false assumptions. “I just think that as human beings, we need to increase the kindness and understanding in this world, in response to that. That it is free—it doesn’t cost a thing. And also, it doesn’t hurt or cost to listen with an open heart and an unbiased ear.”
According to Smithson, being out there with all the other deliverers got him thinking about what he can do to help them. He thought that he wouldn’t be heard because he’s just one person.
“I never imagined that I would be heard by so many. Imagine starting out from scratch, no one knowing who you are, set out on such a monumental task. I was almost resigned to thinking that it was pointless. Like, who would listen to me? Versus a billion-dollar company?” he said that he never expected to have his voice heard all over the world.
“My desire to make a difference, to help other drivers, kept me going even when it seemed like no one cared about what I had to say about this. It feels incredibly good to know that now this is a topic people are seeing in different countries, languages—and caring! Knowing that deliverers worldwide will get a little bit of extra coin in their pockets per trip potentially because of these videos is an amazingly rewarding feeling,” he said.
Smithson feels like he made an impact that will make the food service industry take a good long look at how they treat and pay their employees. Hopefully, they’ll make changes to their work models so that delivery drivers get better compensation and get treated better.
According to the video creator, the issue is one that’s broader than just the food service industry. “This could even affect any sector, as this is not just about a particular business solely: it’s about the way we treat each other as human beings. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said, ‘Life’s most pressing and urgent question: What have you done for others?’
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What’s more, the delivery driver wants the companies to consider their customers’ opinions more, too. For instance, regarding high delivery fees. “After all, without customers, there is no business. Just like if there are no deliverers, there is no way to get the items to the customers,” he said that it will take everyone uniting and sharing their thoughts with the corporations to get them to change their ways. Smithson thinks that companies are perfectly capable of making the change, considering their vast financial resources and trained professionals working for them.
The man voices the concerns that a lot of food service industry employees have
Image credits: itssmithson
Image credits: itssmithson
According to the delivery driver, it’s “understandable and necessary in running a business” to keep the profit margin up. However, it all comes down to how this affects employees.
“How much sense does it make to pay someone the equivalent of less than minimum wage per hour, no matter if they work one, four, or twelve, when you have many working for the corporation making millions per year, with perks, and extra bonuses in the millions as well? When it all comes down to it, why is the value of the deliverer so low when it comes to the dollar paid for the wait, for the mile, for the delivery? That’s when it becomes grey, and you’re referred to an FAQ page on a site that explains policies on tipping and compensation. That’s when there’s ‘no comment.’ It’s been years since these companies have been up and running, and the answers and methods remain the same.”
Smithson said that when deliverers get fed up and quit, these companies rely on new recruits which they draw in using “aggressive advertising on social media.”
In another video, the driver said that companies need to step up
The delivery driver was very upfront with Bored Panda that doing what he does in New York is dangerous “on a traffic and crime level.”
He said: “You have to be aware at all times, no matter how you’re delivering. You have to be extremely resourceful due to the layout of the city and traffic as well. And you also have to be extremely patient. Anything can happen. And you’re delivering large parcels, expensive items, not just hot food from a restaurant.”
Smithson explained that delivery drivers need to balance their own safety with punctuality. “Timeliness is needed of course, as well as ensuring the quality of the condition of the said items that are being delivered. But you have to look out for yourself. Watch out for traffic, lock your doors when you get out of the car, lock your bike or scooter if you’re using one of those,” he said.
“Keep in touch with your customer. If they’re not answering, chat or call customer service for the app you’re delivering for. I know it’s frustrating because some of the apps don’t even have that— another issue many say is a very big problem when completing an order. If that’s the case then call the restaurant or store and let them know.”
The delivery driver stressed the importance of being respectful to the customers at all times and no matter what happens.
“You’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the company, and other deliverers after you. If you’re upset it’s understandable. You’re working, not getting paid much, I get it. You don’t want to be blamed for things that are out of your control. Remember that they paid for these items and that not everyone is going to be polite. That’s why you have to be polite for them. It works. Even if it stings to suck it up,” he shared some advice.
“I want the customers to know I care just as much about them as I do about getting them their order on time, and intact. I know some of them can afford to pay a high fee and a tip, and for the item delivered. I still want you to know that despite that, I care. If you can ever spare it though, know that a tip can make or break a deliverer’s day, and that means paying bills to keep afloat,” he told Bored Panda.
You can watch Smithson’s follow-up video right here
@itssmithsonmichael Billion dollar companies- if everyone stops delivering for a “real job” what would THAT feel like #positiveforce #fyp #itssmithsonmichael #traction #tiktok ♬ original sound – Smithson Michael
“Delivering for these app services felt like a desperate attempt to salvage my life. The pandemic has made the demand for delivery services reach an unprecedented high. Out there, I found that the need for things ranging from food to gas-powered scooters on delivery—is astronomical. However, the pay is not,” Smithson writes on his GoFundMe campaign page.
Meanwhile, the delivery driver calls out corporate greed in the description of his petition on Change.org. “Food deliverers are out risking their lives in this global pandemic to bring food and supplies to folks and are being exploited by companies like Uber eats and DoorDash—working for criminally low rates as a contractor,” he writes.
“These gig economy apps are charging astronomical fees to both customers and restaurants, sometimes putting restaurants in the position of losses because of the fees they have to pay. And the drivers are only receiving a few dollars for their time, effort, and wear and tear on their vehicle.”
Smithson continues: “There are major systemic issues that need to be addressed to fix this, but in the meantime, drivers are relying on customer tips to survive. Not receiving a tip on an order can sometimes result in a financial loss for the driver after gas and vehicle maintenance. It’s time to hold these companies accountable.”
On Twitter, he reiterates that the responsibility to ensure that delivery drivers get paid a decent wage “ultimately falls on the companies.” He highlighted the fact that he still believes that customer tips should still be left at their discretion. “App delivery services need to compensate deliverers better!” he stressed, pointing out that tips really should remain optional.
Smithson describes himself as “the voice of the food service industry workers.” He points out that they “deserve respect, proper pay, and better treatment.”
“No one deserves to work, and be paid so little. Especially not in an unprecedented time where the demand for these services is at an all-time high,” he noted how unfair the situation is where we rely on delivery drivers so much, yet they often struggle to make ends meet.
In yet another video, Smithson explains how drivers’ cars get worn down on the job
Smithson told BuzzFeed that, on average, tips for a single delivery range from nothing to around 4 dollars.
“A twenty is super rare, a ten is rare, and a five makes me feel good. That’s how scarce it can be. A small tip is so defeating, it makes me want to cry. Bills, debts, and future endeavors all seem so far away when you get three dollars or less for all that waiting, driving to pick up and drop off the order in a timely fashion—ensuring everything is perfect—to only drive away with barely enough to get your tank off of empty,” he told BuzzFeed.
“We are at the mercy of the restaurant or businesses’ schedule when we accept an order. All we can do is wait until they give it to us to get it to the customer. So, when a customer is unwilling to tip because of the fact that they had to wait a long time, it is not always our fault,” he noted that they might lose money due to factors outside of their control.
According to Smithson, Uber pays delivery drivers cents per mile driven. “And it’s a few cents per minute for the wait and to pick up food,” he pointed out that they get punished for getting stuck in traffic. Though Uber offers drivers some support to take care of their vehicles (e.g. giving them 15% off on new tires and oil changes), many feel like it’s not enough.
“I want people to realize that these app services do not pay for every aspect of the ordeal that we, as delivery drivers, have to go through to get these orders to you. It’s not always just a bag of hot food. Sometimes it’s 20 bags of groceries, with five cases of water in them and multiple boxes of bottles. Other times, it’s items that can be delicate and heavy. The pay per delivery is very low despite the mileage driven or wait time for food and, again, we are not paid to be stuck in traffic,” Smithson told BuzzFeed.
“Uber—and all delivery app services—should pay more to deliverers. People are driving, walking, scooting, and biking in all types of weather conditions—day and night. It’s dangerous out there at times when you consider weather conditions, traffic, and crime. If no one tips, you’re working eight to ten hours shifts for $30 to $40 dollars total. The advertising these billion-dollar companies put out there regarding pay per hour is not accurate at all.”
Here’s how some social media users reacted to the issues that Smithson brought up
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And here’s what people on TikTok had to say. Some of them were fellow delivery drivers just like Smithson