After a relentless campaign from big corporations, the Seattle City Council appears poised to repeal or dramatically cut a minimum wage ordinance for gig workers known as “Pay Up,” which took effect this year. But interviews with the gig workers themselves reveal that the corporatist council might make that extreme decision despite missing a big piece of the puzzle.

Over the last two weeks, The Stranger conducted interviews with more than a dozen drivers and cyclists who both favor and oppose the policy. They all mentioned a huge disparity between gig workers who drive and those who bike–the “winners and losers” of the minimum wage, as bike courier Gary put it. Even opponents of the minimum wage like Gary accused the companies of rigging the algorithm to give more orders to drivers than cyclists long before the new law went into place, a charge the companies only somewhat deny. 

While cyclists tell us they don’t see enough orders under the new law to put dinner on their table, drivers largely said they make more money now. If the Pay Up policy widened the gap between the “winners and losers,” then the council could shape policy to uplift bike couriers instead of effectively or entirely tossing out the law. 

Pay Up: A Brief History

In 2022, former Council Members Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis rolled out their “Pay Up” package of protections for gig workers, and they prioritized establishing a minimum wage. 

Gig workers said they got screwed pretty often in the pre-minimum wage industry. For example, in 2022 one worker told The Stranger about a time when InstaCart offered her $10.23 without a tip to pick up 58 items at a grocery store. To complete that order, the worker said she would spend potentially an hour-and-a-half just driving to and from the store and waiting in line, not to mention the amount of time it would take her to shop and message the customer about substitutes for out-of-stock items. Spending two hours on that trip puts her at about $5 per hour, which amounts to the minimum wage from 30 years ago. At that rate, she’d need to perform about 400 hours of untaxed work to afford the average month’s rent for a one-bedroom in Seattle. 

In May of 2022, after some pushback and concessions on the legislation, the city council unanimously passed an ordinance that ensured drivers received a minimum wage based on their “engaged” minutes and expenses.

The Backlash

When the law went into effect in January of this year, the gig companies threw a temper tantrum and slapped large fees onto orders. In messages to their customers, to the press, and on social media, the billion-dollar corporations blamed the fee on the city council and the workers who fought for their wage. Of course, the law did not require the companies to pass on the true cost of labor to their customers, and not every company chose to level such a fee.

The apps have not published data to show the true effects of the law, so lobbyists, the media, and the city council rely on individual anecdotes to inform their advocacy, reporting, and lawmaking–which is less than ideal, tbh.  

Based on our reporting, all workers said the company’s high fees reduced the number of orders they could pick up. However, Pay Up proponents said that as the quantity of the orders sunk, the quality shot up–meaning they made more money per order. 

For example, delivery driver Alex showed The Stranger a screenshot of his earnings for the last week of February. He made $1,170 in 34 hours of “active time,” or about $34 per hour before tips. 

Delivery driver Henry sent screenshots that showed he makes $20 per hour on his worst day, about $25 per hour on an average day, and more than $30 on an excellent day. Still, Henry said he’s also putting in more hours than ever, starting at 8 am and sometimes not stopping until midnight, because he’s worried the council will take away his well-paying job. 

Cyclists who spoke to The Stranger described a different experience. 

“The law disproportionately affected us,” said Gary in a group interview. 

“That’s putting it lightly,” bike courier Paul said. “It totally obliterated us.”

Gary sent screenshots of his earnings under the Pay Up ordinance that showed him making roughly $800 in 60 hours of work, or about $13 per hour. He also showed that he accepts 100% of the orders he receives. 

Bike courier Jason showed screenshots of his earnings for the first week of April. Despite waiting by his phone for orders for 52 hours that week, he only completed five deliveries. He made $51 and a $3 tip. 

“Winners and Losers”

The bike couriers believe that they see an especially low number of orders because the gig companies intentionally suppress orders to cyclists. As seen on community forums, for years bike couriers across the country have accused the gig companies of favoring their car-driving peers. But the anti-minimum wage cyclists said that disparity grew after the new law went into effect. 

The bikers have a theory: Cyclists typically take longer to complete deliveries than drivers do, so now that the apps must pay workers for their time, assigning orders to the faster workers saves the companies money. 

Not that a spokesperson from Uber would admit to gaming their algorithm to suppress orders, but I asked them about that theory anyway. A spokesperson from Uber said, “There is no change to how orders are dispatched—-All Uber Eats couriers across the board are experiencing a decline in orders as a result of Pay Up.”

When asked about favoritism toward drivers unrelated to Pay Up, Uber Eats did not respond. 

Doordash sort of admitted that the app's algorithm works differently for cyclists. In an email statement, a Doordash spokesperson said the company only offers bike couriers "bike-friendly" orders. "This is to avoid offering orders to Dashers on bikes that contain cumbersome items like cakes or multiple hot drinks," The spokesperson wrote, maintaining that the current law saddles all workers with longer wait times and fewer orders. 

Though they initially lobbied for a flat-out repeal, these cyclists now advocate for a proposal put forth by the Uber-backed lobby group, Drive Forward. Early drafts of the legislation suggest the group wants an 11% cut in the minimum hourly pay and a 40% cut to per-mile reimbursement. Proponents of Pay Up said that this proposal amounts to a repeal that sneaks in a bunch of ways for the apps to undermine planned Pay Up legislation in the future. 

Drive Forward’s proposal does not require the gig companies to remove their fees, but bike courier John, who frequently speaks out against the minimum wage during public comment periods, said that he believes gig companies have made a “handshake agreement” with the City to eliminate the new fees if the council passes Drive Forward’s pay cuts. 

To support that theory, John referenced a KING 5 story that quoted a DoorDash spokesperson saying, “Our message to the council is the same as the message we’re overwhelmingly hearing from Dashers, businesses, and consumers in Seattle–it’s time to fix this broken law. The regulatory response fee in Seattle helps offset the costs associated with this law. If those costs can be decreased, we will explore all options to increase affordability for consumers, including a reduction of the fee.”

That’s not a very strong promise. To keep its word, DoorDash would only need to “explore” a reduction to the fee, whatever that means. 

John said he didn’t trust the company’s word on its own, but he did trust that DoorDash and other companies would do what’s best for their bottom line. So, if sales truly dropped because of their fee, then they would want to eliminate the fee. However, companies have not released sales data, so it's impossible to know if the $5 fee overcompensates for the customer loss, which, Pay Up proponents argue, would incentivize companies to keep fees even with a repeal. 

Besides, if the couriers believe the apps suppress orders for cyclists because they work more slowly, then lowering the minimum rate would not incentivize the companies to assign them more orders. They would still be slower than cars.


Not all bike couriers saw a cut to their earnings. Emma, a part-time bike courier, said she received fewer orders after the law passed, but each order paid more. According to screenshots she shared with The Stranger, she made about $15 per hour, or about $168 over 31 deliveries during the week of December 25-30. In the first week of April, she made about $32 per hour, or about $250 for 13 deliveries. 

Emma used to work for Uber Eats and DoorDash, but when the law went into effect, she noticed Uber Eats did not give her many orders, so she dropped the app. Like the anti-Pay Up workers, she attributes the drop to the new fees, and she believes the apps may be suppressing orders to cyclists to save money. But she said the issue was particularly bad on Uber Eats because the app does not give couriers the option to specify that they deliver on an E-bike instead of a conventional bike, so she suspects that Uber Eats “vastly overestimates” the amount of time it takes for E-cyclists like her to make a delivery. 

Emma also said that she has to play the delivery game a little differently now to make money. She used to aim to complete four or five deliveries in an hour, so she would stay in one dense, urban area. Now, she finds it is more profitable to take slightly longer rides.

The anti-Pay Up couriers said those ideas sound nice, but they don’t get enough orders to begin with. One worker speculated that fewer orders may not hit a part-time worker as hard. 

Emma also suggested that cyclists should try to do grocery deliveries. Part of the Pay Up package mandated that the gig companies give workers a preview of orders from grocery stores, so cyclists can now gauge if they can complete a grocery delivery. 

Again, the anti-Pay Up couriers said they take every order from every company, but it's still not enough.

Though she’s benefiting from the new wage, she believes her fellow couriers when they say they are not, but she can’t help but notice how the apps benefit from discord among couriers and drivers. She can see that bike couriers may feel gaslit about their own financial woes as their car-driving peers insist they earn more than ever. That kind of infighting can make workers side with their bosses.

Emma said the council could improve the policy by preventing the apps from discriminating against cyclists and by investing in more bike lanes and bike infrastructure so cyclists can get around faster and better compete with cars. But that latter change would benefit average Seattleites and not just big business, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. 

Perhaps controversially for the broader labor movement, Emma also suggested a two-tiered minimum wage. She said the council shouldn’t touch the ordinance for drivers, who seem largely to benefit, but perhaps they could create a different payscale for couriers to make them more competitive. For example, she said cyclists should perhaps receive less compensation for expenses because they do not pay for gas or car maintenance. That idea sort of ignores the fact that cyclists can incur expenses because cars hit and injure them, but let her cook!

I ran these ideas and others by Council President Nelson, but she did not respond. 

Up Next

Nelson’s committee will consider official legislation next week at the earliest, so there’s still time for her to think of a solution to uplift bike couriers rather than drag down drivers, as Emma put it. 

Meanwhile, anti-minimum wage bike couriers have given up on their goal of totally repealing the minimum wage ordinance. Heather, a bike courier, said such a repeal would be an optics nightmare for the City, but she was willing to settle for Drive Forward’s proposed changes. She added that Pay Up proponents, particularly Working Washington, the lobby group that helped win the minimum wage, need to learn to compromise.

Working Washington spokesperson Hannah Sabio-Howell said that workers came up with the pay standard–not Working Washington. It was the workers who showed up for three years of stakeholdering meetings, and it’s the workers who need to be at the table now.

“We’re not going to solve the problem of app corporations refusing to send orders to bike couriers by jamming through a corporate proposal that cuts pay and protections that workers fought for,” Sabio-Howell said. 

It’s not looking great for the workers who support the minimum wage, though. The corporate council seems poised to use a vocal minority who claims to not benefit from the wage as cover to strip worker pay more broadly, yet again showing that their ideological commitments trump practical governance that help everyday Seattleites.