Joe Hill: fast, hardworking rider broken by Gorillas

I started at Gorillas April of 2021. I love riding. Riding is fantastic.

Giving people the things they need in a timely fashion is great. Hearing from customers that they’re incredibly happy with how fast you were is amazing. Being fast in general and working hard is something I really enjoy. It’s the first bicycle courier job I ever worked, and I quickly grew to love the work and developed a sense of pride and fulfilment in developing my skills at riding extremely fast and safely in an urban environment.

The job itself however, alongside the workplace environment, is a wholly different story… the lack of organization in the workplace, the cost cutting, and the company simply expanding far too fast for their resources and planning….all these things lead to the rider just having to ride faster, take heavier loads, and generally take up the slack because of the inefficiencies.

What to expect when working for Gorillas

I have such a large variety of examples of the issues I have experienced in warehouses, but here is a short selection:

  1. Brakes not working properly or completely failing. Bikes in general falling apart while we’re driving them.
  2. Backlogs in warehouses causing me to miss the 10 minute promise and then getting shit for it from dissapointed customers.
  3. The bags we carry these massive loads in often can’t be adjusted: the straps and fittings are frequently broken. The mass is thus never properly distributed on the body whilst riding, causing strain and injury.
  4. Basic electrics in the warehouse failing, upto 5 times a shift, leading to riding on heavy bikes with no battery, as well as the order system and fridges going down in the warehouse, leading to massive delays.
  5. Delivery locations outside of the 2.5km radius from the warehouse that they’re supposed to be.
  6. Nonsensically inappropriate rider-scheduling; sometimes having only 7 or 8 rider on a predictably busy period such as a Friday night or during a football match, and then at other times having upto 30 riders on a quiet Sunday morning shift.
  7. The expectation of customers that delivery includes riders climbing 3-4 flights of stairs, often whilst you are carrying 2 or more further orders to be delivered after.
  8. App-based order and shift-login systems that are incredibly bug-ridden, prone to crashing and freezing.
  9. Sexist, homophobic, and otherwise work-innapropriate conversations/ behaviour from colleagues and supervisors around the warehouse being completely unchallenged, to the point of it feeling like company culture. (At the same time as having “Gorillas loves Pride” proudly emblazoned in rainbows on the bags.)
  10. Tiny, cramped working conditions that are wholly covid unsafe, not to mention incredibly time-consuming, stressful, clostraphobic and inefficient for riders having to wrestle past one another when collecting orders/leaving for delivery.
  11. At one point, we were riding in very high temperatures with little to no access or provision of hydration; when I asked for water I often received annoyed comments for the nuisance, was told there wasn’t time for that right now, or ignored .
  12. Illegal shift patterns, not knowing your shifts until 1 week in advance, shift preferences being completely ignored, and shifts being changed days before you are meant to work them with no communication; these are all extremely regular and commonplace…in the most extreme examples, you can be relocated to another warehouse, with your entire shift pattern for 2 weeks can be changing over night, with little to no notice or communication.

A Riders’ story: injuries, painkillers, insecurity, burnout

I could go on, and on, and on…but instead I’ll tell a little bit more of my story…

About one or two months after I started riding I started experiencing serious physical complaints due to the work. I had many periods of pronounced tendon injuries. I attribute this to the poor standard of the bikes, as well as the frequent times I had to ride without battery assistance or otherwise ride with the bike under-powered to conserve battery life because of power-outages in the warehouse.

Furthermore, I have developed consistent major back issues because of the frequent excessively heavy loads in combination with the broken bags.

In a short period of time, it became normal for me that I was constantly taking painkillers in order to work.

Over time, the absolute instability in shift schedules, and the physical tole wore me down. I got so stressed. I never felt like my body fully recovered between shifts. I developed sleep issues, meaning falling asleep was hard, sleep quality was low, sleep was short. I never woke up rested. My days off just became time where I would not move because of the pain and exhaustion. Feeding myself sufficiently became a difficulty.

I ended up just really burned out.

In general when at work you’re supposed to work like an automaton. If you can’t manage, you’re told to follow the sickness protocols. Those appear like the Dutch law, but Gorilla’s protocol disappears basic worker rights while pushing requirements and responsibilities onto the employee.

It must be hard to understand for outsiders but we can’t speak to our actual management, only ‘rider captains’ and warehouse supervisors, who 9 times out of 10, do not have the authority or information to deal with whatever issue you have.

In case of sickness, when we want to report it or talk about it, all we can do is make sure to call the rider captain 2 hours before a shift, and enter it in this app system, which will only tell us it’s ‘pending’. When you check back, said sickness request can then have been declined. I have many colleagues who have had issues with this system and their legitimate requests coming up as ‘No-shows’. This means that they, or their app, registered you just didn’t show up for work.

In general, within the warehouses, responses to injury or sickness, unless you are actually bleeding all over the place, are casual at best.

What Radical Riders offers Riders

I joined up with the Radical Riders because this group offers me many things. A feeling of community, solidarity, the feeling of not being lazy or workshy because I feel like work is destroying me. It brings me hope that we can change this situation. Hope that there are other people out there who feel the same way and want to do something. Which feels like something from yesteryear that my parents would talk about.

We help each other not only in dealing with things but also understanding things and getting shit done. I didn’t understand my pay slips and in general found understanding the contracts and protocols hard. Gorilla’s doesn’t really communicate. And what about these rights that we supposedly have because of the law, how do contracts relate to that?

We educate ourselves. Radical Riders has a pool of people and resources to help with that including a legal expert. For instance regarding figuring out whether you’ve been paid enough. Or when they’re asking money back from you after messing up their administration. I got advice and support to actually take sick leave. So I’m happy and grateful Radical Riders is here and I’m actively contributing to the project myself.