Door Dash Doesn't Know What's Going On Either
Door Dash donated over $90,000 to aldermanic candidates in the February 28 election. It wasn't a great strategy, but good luck to them.
Like all nerds, I watched Andor and I won’t shut up about it.
Andor, described as The Wire for Star Wars, targeted a very particular type of nerd as its primary audience, and it delivered exactly what this audience wanted: immersive, historically accurate revolutionary coalition drama, told from a variety of narrative perspectives, in space.
Like I said, it’s niche.
As you can imagine, based on this plot description, Andor is full of reductive ham-fisted metaphors for Chicago politics.
Even minor characters like Saw Guerra, a paranoid leftist that insists on purity politics, could power 5 different essays about Chicago I’ll never write because I’m scared everyone will be mad at me.
Anyway, the storylines I found most compelling in Andor weren’t about the revolutionaries, but about the Empire. The Empire characters, or as one critic called them, “feckless pathetic strivers,” were trapped by hierarchy, endless conversations about scope, and other petty bullshit. They did horrible things: but because of their ineptness, they were useless horrible things.
Cassian, the main character (Rebellion, not Empire) spells it out for one fellow dissenter at one point, saying: “they don’t care about us. But that’s why we win.”
Andor tells the story of how, in spite of their ludicrous amount of resources and technology, the Empire lost.
I’ve been thinking about Andor while trying to better understand the stakes of the aldermanic race in my own ward. And for once, I’m actually feeling better about corporate power in government — even as it carries out egregious, shady practices to get its way.
Why would DoorDash give money to Chicago candidates?
The Daily Line Chicago reported a few weeks ago that meal delivery app DoorDash donated over $90,000 to local and state candidates across the city in the February 28 election. This includes $10,000 to Kim Walz, who is running against Angela Clay for alder in the 46th Ward — where I live.
I’m biased. Angela Clay would be a particularly good alderwoman for Uptown. She’s a community organizer who grew up in the neighborhood, and
But even if Clay wasn’t, Walz has handled the race particularly egregiously: she’s a former Walgreens lobbyist and the Democratic establishment’s choice for Uptown (including the current alderman, James Cappleman). The Realtors’ group spent at least $65,000 on her campaign so far.
So the $10,000 Walz received from DoorDash back in December, made me curious. Are Walz and other aldermanic candidates just particularly enthusiastic meal delivery app users?
The other (incumbent) Alders that received donations from DoorDash, by the way, include Burnett, Mitts, and Tunney. The fact that I didn’t even have to try to find deep-dive weirdo stories about any of them says a lot.
Chicago municipal elections are pretty expensive, particularly for races where the officeholder ultimately has very little power over business beyond city lines. And though they have said their interest in the candidates is related to "civic engagement,” $90,000 is enough money to assume DoorDash has more at stake than rocking the vote. DoorDash is proactively investing in candidates like Kim Walz for a reason.
DoorDash’s donations to local candidates are part of a broader strategy against municipal regulation, undermining city power and worker rights. It’s also a signal that they’re willing to fight in petty ways (even compared to other tech companies) to avoid transparency.
So, for better or worse, DoorDash’s donations reminded me of Andor.
Not any of the uplifting parts, or the Rebellion itself, but the parts with the Empire, the “feckless strivers.”
Because if DoorDash is willing to invest any money into this petty, petty fight on a micro level, it shows that this tech company, for all of its money and national power, still has no idea what’s going on in Chicago’s local government.
Door Dash Politely Requests Everyone Stop Trying to Define What A Worker Is, Thanks
DoorDash isn't the first tech company to invest in local policymakers.
It makes good business sense for any app built on the disruptive power of zero regulation and venture capital to avoid scrutiny and mandates from policymakers on every level by giving those policymakers lots of money.
But DoorDash has taken on the most intensive political advocacy of any tech company. It’s faced the most restrictive and targeted attempts to regulate its bad labor practices — probably it has some of the worst labor practices, even in a field known for decimating innumerable types of industry. New York Comptroller singled out DoorDash when calling out shareholders of major companies, asking them to prioritize worker rights. Ballot initiatives have restricted DoorDash’s operation in Massachusetts and California, and groups in New Jersey have organized driver strikes against the company for deceptive tipping practices.
And in the last year or two, this kind of resistance to DoorDash is picking up momentum in state legislatures. In Colorado, where a former DoorDash driver is now a representative, is on the table, and in a new bill in Illinois’ state legislature (DoorDash also invested some money here in the leadup to February 28th’s election).
As this resistance grows, DoorDash has fought back, covering its bases on a state level as well as nationally: in 2022, they started a PAC and hired a prominent anti-trust lobbyist back in 2020. Though DoorDash originally meant to put their national advocacy into stopping Biden's PRO Act, which in part, sought to reclassify gig workers as employees (DoorDash’s main source of labor). None of this is great for DoorDash. But Chicago’s feud with DoorDash has been particularly intensive.
Last year, the City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against DoorDash and GrubHub regarding the apps' unfair business practices, the first time a city filed a comprehensive lawsuit against a meal delivery service.
Among many other issues, the lawsuit singles out Grubhub’s practice of publicizing phone numbers that direct callers to restaurants while quietly adding their own fees, or making “imposter” versions of restaurant websites, misleading customers about who received their tips for drivers, and using bait-and-switch tactics to attract customers with low delivery fees, only to charge additional ones when they are about to place their order.
Though DoorDash contested all of these issues, as the court argued, DoorDash’s language is intentionally misleading. For example, their website says that “100%" of a tip goes to the driver—which sure sounds like the tip goes to the driver! Nope, guess again: it’s used to reduce DoorDash’s payment obligation to the driver, which — uh, isn’t really a tip at all. You can see how the City decided to sue.
Not every app is as petty as DoorDash, at least when it comes to this particular regulatory action, by the way. Uber, known most for its worker rights violations and horrendous sexism (I also guess for being a ride-share app) settled out of court with the City of Chicago for almost $10 million — a striking contrast to DoorDash’s strategy of “get bent, also we’re adding a fee that makes it looks like you’re taxing us.” Also a striking contrast: none of the equivalent apps like Uber, Lyft, GoPuff (or even Grubhub) have made similar donations to any municipal candidates in 2023.
This lawsuit (and DoorDash’s reaction) shows that the City can fight back against corporate interests (especially when the corporate interest is particularly petty). It’s a rare move from Lightfoot’s office that targets the right people proactively — and it means that the Chicago government for all of its foibles, messiness, and weird chunks of leftover corruption, can still have an impact. This is great, especially right now, in a particularly exciting moment to think about what’s possible for Chicago’s next Mayor.
Alders have no control over the lawsuit, filed by the Mayor’s Office. But what these alders could do is change the fate of 2 ordinances that would deeply limit' DoorDash’s purview in the city.
Part of what shaped the city’s lawsuit was DoorDash’s petty reaction to an ordinance from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) during the pandemic.
Ultimately, it’s what led to Door Dash creating a "Chicago fee,” (also mentioned in the City’s lawsuit): a $1.50 "Chicago fee"not representative of local taxes, as the name implies, but paid directly to DoorDash.
Like a tip that sounds like a tip but uh, just goes to the app’s overall bottom line. Whoops. A classic misunderstanding.
Waguespack attempted to extend the 15% cap to the fall-- but it was referred to the City Council Committee on License and Consumer Protection, chaired by Mitts (who is one of the alders who received money from DoorDash, $1000).
Beyond this attempt to hold DoorDash accountable, Ald. Sadlowski Garza (10) introduced an ordinance (O2023-239) to give rideshare and food delivery app drivers (like those working for DoorDash) the right to appeal deactivations.
Sadlowski Garza’s ordinance was designed to protect "network workers" as they're referred to in the ordinance and to mandate "due process" from apps like DoorDash. It includes basic things like support for gig workers who are terminated because of false allegations from irritated customers.
DoorDash, as you can imagine, has a vested interest in the people who deliver for them NOT being called workers, not to mention a vested interest in the city continuing to have limited ability to regulate what they do, and they’ve opposed this ordinance.
You Know What? Good!
DoorDash donations to Walz and others are to make sure ordinances like Garza and Waguespack's never make it out of committee. It is an investment in those candidates' silence.
And, at least in the 46th Ward, where Walz so far refuses to comment on this donation beyond the fact that she would never allow a donation to influence her vote, a fascinating take from a former lobbyist, it seems to be working.
Though I’m not excited that DoorDash is trying to buy off Chicago politicians, it speaks to the power of local and municipal government to address and scare multimillion companies like DoorDash — even when their total revenue is 3 times the city’s budget. It’s a nice reminder that corporations are not always miles ahead of the game.
Both in Chicago and around the country, local and state governments will continue to say “hey, stop it!” with all of the cumbersome mechanisms they can muster to protect workers and small businesses. Sometimes! When they feel like it!
And though those mechanisms may be cumbersome, slow, and time-consuming, they’re working — at least, working enough for DoorDash to give out money to candidates like Walz without a strategy, reactive and somewhat erratic.
DoorDash is scared of local threats to their interests, so they’re trying to pay off candidates that will make sure ordinances like Sandlowski-Garza’s languish in committee forever.
This is sleazy and “politics as usual,” sure. But it shows the parts I liked the most in Andor: the parts when the tech-savvy and well-funded Empire doesn’t know what’s going on any more than the rest of the galaxy does — and people start fighting back.
You take hope wherever you can find it, I guess.
I learned that from Andor.
(No I didn’t. But you should watch it anyway.)
Sidenote: Sadlowski Garza is retiring. This is a huge loss in part because of her skills with what The Daily Line calls “coldly shutting down” irrelevant conversations. DoorDash did not donate to anyone who ran for Sadlowski-Garza’s seat — which isn’t how I’d approach palm-greasing local officials for my worker-exploiting tech company, but do your thing, DoorDash!
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