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USU promotes exploitative student jobs at DoorDash

DoorDash is not required to pay its workers the minimum wage as they operate as ‘contractors’, instead paying them per delivery.

The University of Sydney Union (USU) has announced a partnership with food-delivery service DoorDash in a Facebook post released on Friday. 

The USU’s decision is surprising considering they are a student-serving body, which conflicts with DoorDash’s business model: DoorDash workers are labelled as contractors rather than employees, and are thus vulnerable to exploitation including underpayment. 

A Facebook ad for the USU’s DoorDash partnership specifically targeted USyd students, promising an average wage of $34/ hour. While this claim was qualified by the small-print text “actual earnings may vary”, it is still questionable, as it varies from DoorDash’s official website, which advertises average earnings of $31 an hour for drivers. 

DoorDash is not required to pay its workers the minimum wage as they operate as ‘contractors’, instead paying them per delivery. As such, it is difficult to validate the company’s claim that worker payment is above the minimum wage, and seems likely that being able to legally underpay workers is the rationale for DoorDash’s piece rate business model. 

In 2021, a class action lawsuit was launched against DoorDash in the United States, where employees claimed that DoorDash directed them away from deliveries at non-partnering restaurants, further reducing workers’ ability to attain pay at or above the minimum wage. A similar model used by DoorDash’s competitor Uber was found to result in the systematic underpayment of workers in 2018. 

A lack of employee status also means that DoorDash drivers and workers are unprotected from unfair dismissals. In 2021, Uber settled an unfair dismissal suit launched by former employee Amita Gupta for $400,000 despite estimates that her settlement would have typically amounted to around $15,000. National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Michael Kaine, stated that this decision would ensure that the case didn’t go to Court, where Uber’s “exploitative” business model, the same model used by DoorDash, could be ruled as illegal. 

The gig work demanded by DoorDash is also highly dangerous. The New South Wales State Government launched an inquiry into the safety of food delivery drivers in early 2020, following five deaths in a two month period. 

Working for DoorDash is disproportionately harmful for international students. International student visas have historically only been permitted to work for 20 hours per week during the semester (although this has temporarily been relaxed). Being underpaid places a cap on what these students can earn, which can materially compromise their quality of life. Further, DoorDash’s flexible work model means that some students view it as a loophole to visa work restrictions, something which recent Court decisions have suggested is doubtful. This can lead to international students inadvertently breaking their visa requirements out of the need to earn enough to survive.

In a statement, USU President Cole Scott-Curwood said, “through partnerships, the USU aims to bring value to our 40,000+ members and generate income to fund initiatives, events, and services. Operational decisions are coordinated by USU management, but having the right partners is an ongoing conversation and priority for the Board. Because of that, in our April meeting earlier this year, we decided to review the USU Sponsorship & Advertising Policy to ensure it aligns with our values and strategic plan.”

Scott-Curwood added, “As someone who works in the gig economy, I know that it is critical to improve standards, benefits, and protections for gig workers”. 

Scott-Curwood pointed to the agreement signed by DoorDash and the Transport Workers Union in May this year as evidence of improving work conditions for DoorDash drivers. However, the deal merely commits to beginning a process of regulation, with no meaningful changes to pay, conditions or legal protections having yet eventuated from the deal. 

The USU, who have a duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students, shouldn’t partner with an organisation as exploitative as DoorDash. Their decision to do so reflects the USU’s status as a primarily profit-driven institution as opposed to one solely focussed on the interests of students who this partnership will likely hurt. 

The USU’s partnership with DoorDash follows the Union’s ties to a litany of other corporations with poor human rights and environmental records.

*Note: This article was amended to include USU President Cole Scott-Curwood’s full statement.