Like so many bike messengers before him, Rigo remembers when an on-the-job injury made him unable to work.
“I got doored right over there,” Rigo said at a recent cycling protest in New York City, pointing to a corner in Midtown Manhattan. (Given the nature of the event—a protest against police harassment of cyclists—he declined to give his last name.) “I was delivering a check somewhere and I broke my hand. I was out of work for a bit and I didn’t get workers comp from my company.”
Working as a bike messenger or delivery person can take a huge toll on a rider’s body. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio began a crackdown on electric bikes in late 2017, working cyclists objected that it would harm their ability to meet the physical demands of the job—long shifts covering long distances, quickly, day after day—without pushing themselves to exhaustion.
But as Rigo’s story demonstrates, worse than aches or pains is the possibility of a crash injury so bad that riders can’t return to the job for weeks or months at a time, losing out on pay while they heal.
“It’s scary, man. That was the longest I was ever out of work, and I worry about that shit every day,” Rigo said. “You think about landing under a bus a lot doing this job. But the shit that scares me the most is getting hurt and not being able to work for a month or two, because I wouldn’t be able to catch up on everything I gotta pay after that.”
With most couriers and delivery people classified as independent contractors, there’s no requirement that an employer step in to cover an injured rider’s expenses. But for 15 years now, the Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund has played a small yet crucial role in helping to fill this gap, one $500 grant at a time.
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