Workers Accuse Ultra-Fast Delivery Startup of Wage Theft

Workers Accuse Ultra-Fast Delivery Startup of Wage Theft

Michael Perez outside of his former employer’s location on the Upper East Side | March 18 Before the Russian-funded delivery startup collapsed, Buyk sold itself as a way for workers to escape the gig economy. Former workers say it failed to deliver.

In early March, a co-worker shared with 28-year-old Michael Perez an alarming email from his employer, a Russian- funded , New York City-based ultra-fast grocery app called Buyk.

Because of the severe sanctions against Russia, the letter announced, the company had lost access to its investors and was forced to furlough 98 percent of its workforce. For Perez, the letter was just one more disappointment in a long string he had experienced working for the company.

“I was at a loss of words, to be honest,” he said. “I try to make the best with the company, but I just kept getting disappointed.”

Prior to its abrupt closure , Buyk was one of the largest and most rapidly growing ultrafast grocery delivery apps in New York City, promising its customers deliveries in 15 minutes or less.

Three former Buyk workers told New York Focus that the company delivered something else: wage theft and mistreatment. Two of the workers accused Buyk of misclassifying them as independent contractors instead of employees, stealing their tips, and failing to provide them pay stubs. The third accused the company of failing to pay his full wages and firing him when he complained.

Buyk’s PR representative, Tom Kiehn, and lawyer, Mark Lichtenstein, both declined to comment for this story.

Rise of an Industry

The pandemic has been a boon for ultrafast grocery delivery companies, which have exploded in number in New York City since 2021 . Venture capitalists have showered billions on these startups, which promise to deliver everything from six-packs of beer to extra creamy cashew milk in 15 minutes or less.

As of February, there were at least seven different companies competing against one another in the space, and the six largest companies — Getir, DoorDash, Gopuff, Gorillas, Jokr, and Buyk — had received a combined $5.5 billion in VC funding.

They’ve used these funds to scavenge the vacant retail spaces that the pandemic left behind, transforming empty storefronts into so-called “dark stores”: micro-warehouses storing items for bike couriers to deliver to nearby customers.

The United States is a relative latecomer to ultrafast delivery, and a number of the current leading players in the market began overseas. Jokr and Gorillas are German start-ups, while Getir is a Turkish company and Buyk is a spin-off of the Russian grocery delivery company Samokat. “Sleet, snow, like the postal service, carrying bags where shit was heavy.” | Peter Burka Buyk launched in the New York market in 2021 with $46 million in seed funding led by Russian venture capital fund Fort Ross Ventures. The company was founded by Russian nationals Rodion Shishkov and Slava Bocharov, and a majority of the company is controlled by a joint venture of the Russian state-owned bank Sberbank and Russian technology company VK.

When Buyk first entered the New York market, some observers raised questions about the viability of its business model, noting that the company relied on low-paid labor.

“A big challenge will be that it’s impossible to use such a cheap workforce in New York as they’re used to in Russia,” Boris Ovchinnikov, co-founder of the Russian research firm Data Insight, told Bloomberg .

Buyk promised that it would use a different model, investing deeply in labor development. Unlike Samokat and previous gig economy startups, which relied on contract workers, Buyk said it would hire full-time staffers and deliver them benefits like medical insurance, commuter compensation and a 401K plan.

“I don’t think that dedicated, passionate employees are necessary to be in the ultrafast grocery business, but I think they’re necessary if you want to win, and we’re very committed to winning,” Buyk CEO James Walker told Wired a few months after launch.

Broken Promises

Perez first learned about Buyk last August, when he spotted an appealing online ad for bike couriers. The ad, placed by a company called Food Start, offered a flat rate of $17 per hour, flexible working hours and the opportunity to work from a single location.

Perez said that a few weeks after he responded to the ad, a representative of Food Start contacted him and told him he would be working full-time for Buyk. In September, he began working at a Buyk “dark store” located on 88th Street on the Upper East Side.But Perez was not technically an employee of Buyk; he was an employee […]

source Workers Accuse Ultra-Fast Delivery Startup of Wage Theft

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