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Independent Contractor Status in the Delivery Service Industry

By Corey Hilliard

The delivery service industry in the United States is in dire need of an overhaul. Workers are grossly underpaid for their efforts. Someone somewhere a very long time ago exploited a loophole in the labor laws allowing workers at companies to be considered independent contractors rather than employees. This exploitation has become the norm.

Most bicycle messengers work for companies that classify them as independent contractors. As such, they are responsible for paying their own local, state and federal taxes, along with healthcare, insurance and equipment needed for the job. The companies are responsible for providing the customers in need of their services. The problem in the bicycle messenger industry is that the workers are not truly independent. For example, a carpenter taking a job would give an estimate of how much they think they should be paid for a specific project. In the bicycle messenger industry, the company sets delivery rates, not the rider. A truly independent messenger would definitely get paid much more to ride during inclement weather.

Pricing for deliveries by bicycle are low considering the level of service given. For three-day delivery one pays the price of a first class US Post office stamp. For overnight delivery one pays a major carrier $10-15. For same-day door-to-door service rather than costing more than the previous method of delivery, customers are charged less. Fierce competition and the undervaluation of effort required to ride a bicycle across town prevent rate increases with the rate of inflation as in other industries.