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Mel Gonzalez

2017, Equal Justice Works Fellowships, Mel Gonzalez

Mel Gonzalez

Name of Host Organization: Make the Road New York
City, State: Brooklyn, New York
Issue area: Workers' Rights
Sponsors: Thomson Reuters, Shearman & Sterling

The Project

Advocate for NYC’s restaurant delivery workers to improve working conditions in the new on-demand economy through direct representation, education, and policy reform to end the harmful tipped wage credit.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project
Thousands of delivery workers, predominantly Latino, race to meet the exploding demand for take­out in neighborhoods across the city every day. These workers are facing ever more demanding and dangerous situations. Classified as tipped workers, only entitled to sub­minimum wages, deliveristas face significant pressure to work longer hours because the tipped wage system disfavors employees. Further, as the on­demand economy has exploded with the help of online services, restaurants maneuver to cut costs even further due to increases in fees.

Overall, restaurants find innumerable ways to illegally pass costs onto workers: they discount fees from deliveristas’ tips, misclassify them as contractors to avoid paying workers’ comp, and fine them for cold or late meals. Workers are also at the whims of impatient customers, and biases in tipping consistently disadvantage people of color. Employers also illegally pass on the costs of bicycle thefts, repairs, and safety equipment to the workers. These practices increase the risk of injury to deliveristas and pedestrians alike as they are forced to choose between safety and their wages.
The Right Person For This Project

Mel Gonzalez is the right person for the project because:
•His passion for workers rights has developed through engagement in workers clinics and internships at Make the Road and the Center for Popular Democracy.
•He is committed to developing grass roots movements for economic justice.
•His own Latino immigrant heritage motivates his commitment to engage with the variety of life stories and experiences in this community.

Plans For First Six Months of Fellowship

In the first six months, Mel Gonzalez will:
•Research the legal and political landscape pertaining to delivery workers and the tipped wage system.
•Begin to represent individual wage theft and overtime claims, and unemployment insurance appeals.
•Begin collecting data on wage theft and health and safety issues affecting delivery workers to develop a policy report.