NEW COLUMN: 'WORKING'
After five years we're putting the TechTonic out with the recycling. New this month is a column about something we're all concerned with: WORK. We'll look at jobs and what people really do, how actual work differs from job descriptions, and how much is sitting around at a screen or using your body. We'll be asking, what is left of the dignity of labor after software, mechanical arms and trundling robotic coolers are doing the work our grandparents did?
Video gamers in headphones who can't hear the doorbell. Teens who order from their bedrooms, leaving their parents to answer the door (and sticking them with the tab). Condo dwellers who give you that 'Do you live here?' look.
It's all part of the job for a Grubhub delivery driver like Boni Melchor.
Melchor picks up to-go food orders at restaurants and delivers them to homes and offices.
Grubhub is classic gig economy work. The thinking being that restaurants are well suited to making food to-go, but they can't afford to pay delivery drivers to sit around waiting. The general public, however, is happy to sit around waiting until an order comes in.
Melchor likes being a Grubhub delivery driver because she can pick her own hours — usually in two-hour increments — and she doesn't have to interact with people very much. She's an independent contractor, which means she's responsible for paying her own taxes and finding her own healthcare and retirement plan.
Her two shifts are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., which is the office lunch crowd, then late afternoon into the dinner period. She can sign out whenever she wants, but "It kind of goes against getting better hours," she told the Business Tribune. "But they're not going to fire me unless I don't show up."
It counts against drivers, making them look less accessible or available. However, if she's having a bad day, she will clock off.
Shoulders, knees and toes
A bad day for Melchor is health related. Her work life is dominated by back (bulging disc) and ankle (hole in the cartilage) problems on top of fibromyalgia. In fact, she is taking six weeks off this summer for ankle surgery.
After two years, this is her most successful gig: the kind of work where GPS, the cloud and instant payments make what Bill Gates called "frictionless capitalism" much easier to perform.
After a lifetime of customer service and sales work, in call centers and in retail stores, it suits her.
"I got tired of just sitting and being in front of a screen and it got to where I had some back issues, I just couldn't sit. And then I can't stand either for eight hours. So, I had to figure out a job."
Two years ago, she was working at a mental health facility, as a counselor, when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She describes that as "A kind of a broad umbrella term where I felt like I had the flu and I couldn't sleep, and just felt a weakness all the time. This job allows me, if I wake up and I feel horrible, I can opt out."
She hastens to add that she has to work. "I don't have a trust fund and my partner works full time. I needed to figure out some way to make money. Disability isn't really an option. Sometimes they don't approve it for two years, and then you have you can't work while you're waiting for approval."
"Besides," she adds, "I want to keep moving, I want to keep busy and I needed to make money somehow. So really, this kind of job is really the best job."
She is also signed up for Shipt grocery delivery which charges $14 a month to deliver groceries from the lies of Target, Fred Meyer and Safeway.
"But sometimes you have to climb six floors with 50-pound bags, and I'm not able to do that right now. I'm hoping to, sometime, because they actually make pretty decent money."
Also, Grubhub pays drivers by the hour while they are waiting. Melchor tried working for Postmates but as a newbie she couldn't afford to sit around waiting unpaid.
During the day, she brings food to a lot of companies that are having meetings. In the evenings, it's family dinner: pizza, burgers, sushi.
She knows for a pizza she'd get $5 for the delivery plus an optional tip.
"Really cheap people just throw you $1; some people don't tip at all. But for the most part, people do $3 to $5. If they order from a steak place and it's $80, I'll get $8 or $10. I've gotten a $20 tip.
The money goes into the app, charged from the customer's card, and the GrubHub delivery people get paid every Thursday, into their bank accounts.
Was It hard to get hired?
"As long as you're a warm body, please, we'll give you a chance," she says with a smile.
She doesn't remember if there was a background check, but they checked her driving record and insurance, and that she had a newer model car.
"I had to go in for an interview, in their office off North 29th Avenue. It was a really quick interview."
Seven years ago, pre-smart phones, she'd worked for a food delivery outlet in San Antonio, Texas, that gave drivers walkie-talkies. "They would be like, 'All right, go here. No, never mind, go here.' Or 'Somebody's broken down. Don't pick up this order today. Now they want dessert, go back and go get their dessert and go back.'" Like a cab company, there was a guy with a book writing down all the orders and looking up routes in a San Antonio street atlas.
Away from the numbers
Melchor lives off Southeast 132nd Avenue so it's easy to start her afternoon shift at the Clackamas Town Center mall. She parks and waits.
"And then you know, all sudden it pops up. 'Go pick up at Red Robin!', So I go to Red Robin and to say I'm here I just press a button on the app."
She goes inside, grabs the bags, puts them in her insulated bag and drives away.
"You go to that address, you say I'm here, you deliver it. I'm done. And they're sending you the next place code. You're not really typing anything. It's just hitting buttons. You have to because you're driving a lot. They'll send you the next job while you're actually delivering that one and you can accept it or not."
It's not much fun to be sent downtown because of the parking restrictions. "We do have a sign that they give us saying 'Grubhub delivery, Be right back.' I haven't gotten a ticket yet in two years."
Also, in the evening, all the dinner action is in the suburbs. "If the next pick up is in Beaverton you're driving under your own dollar."
Delivering Red Robin to some subdivision, she says she might get a nice $10 tip. "Because they feel bad for me, for an old lady delivering. I'm 57," she says.
"I think they are surprised, though, when they open the door." While most drivers are in their 20s, she's met people working with their kids and grandkids in the car. "You gotta do what you gotta do."
She's otherwise a friendly person friendly person but Melchor won't do Uber of Lyft.
"Sometimes the general public just be pains in the butt. So, I just deliver your food. They're happy to see me because I've got food. And nobody's mad at me. Honestly, I know it's going to sound terrible. I just don't really want to deal with people. I don't want to talk to them. I don't want to pick them up when they're drunk. That just sounds exhausting to me right now. I don't like it, so this is perfect."
In Olympia, she tried working for Amazon, picking and packing in a warehouse for Christmas. It was too fast and too hard on her body. "I was like, I'm too old for this." Management dangled the promise of full-time work after Christmas, but the word on the floor was they were letting everyone go, and they did.
Asked if she feels she has a relationship with Grubhub, she says "I do with my manager. That's the person that I have to talk to. What I like is there is nobody looking over your shoulder saying do it this way, don't do it this way, unless you have a complaint, which, luckily, I've never had any complaints."
Video gamers are another classic: with headphones on, they don't hear the door.
There are many orders from Burger King and Taco Bell, so these are not high rollers. It's all about hyper convenience. In many cases, not even getting out of bed.
"I quit doing lunches on Saturdays and Sundays, because I was getting all these orders from teenagers from their bedrooms. I go and deliver, and they tip $1, because they're teenagers."
A lot of good tippers are working class and have been in the service industry.
"And then I found that people that have a lot of money have never done service work and have no idea what it takes."
Ultimately, it's about convenience for Melchor too: survival and convenience.
"You know, this this job is pretty minimal human contact, picking up dropping off — that's it man. You're on your own in between. When you're done for the evening, you just turn off and you can slide. Yeah, when you're done, you're done."
IT'S A LIVING?
Boni Melchor's goal is to do 20 hours a week for Grubhub, making two deliveries per hour. That way, she takes home $18 to $20 an hour, before taxes.
She's only met one person who can do the job 40 hours a week or more.
"She said, 'I just hate to stay at home. I love meeting people." But she has heard there are people who do it from 9 a.m. to 11 at night, which is when delivery ends.
"You can do as many hours as you want to, there's no limit and no seniority." They do, however, get rated by the algorithm, for showing up, being punctual, accurate and personable.
"You can decline an order but it puts you at the bottom. It's best to take what they give you." Drivers make their schedule on the app at 10 a.m. on Thursdays. Team players also get better times, such as busy times.
It would be hard to make it in Portland, solo, on Grubhub alone. Melchor's wife has a good job at PGE with spousal benefits.
"It's doable, it's a hard job full time, there's wear n tear on you and your car. (I'd) just have to work more hours and be consistent...and hopefully, live in a house with 10 roommates! Definitely better than minimum wage!"
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