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Bikeshare employees complain of poor working conditions

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

By: Deedee Sun

You’ve probably seen the yellow ofo bikes. There are 4,000 of them in Seattle. Now, some workers at the bike sharing company are complaining that their working conditions are not safe.

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Many of ofo’s employees, especially the workers who handle the bikes, are hired through Millionair Club Charity, a group that, in part, works to connect people who are homeless with job opportunities.

After KIRO 7 brought the workers’ concerns to the charity, it said that an employee who has been certified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will start auditing working conditions early next week.

Sean Healy said he joined the ofo bike sharing company in September. The company launched in Seattle in August.

Like most employees, he was on the Millionair Club payroll, until he quit on Saturday.

“I have a lot of concerns. My concerns, No. 1, are safety,” Healy said.

Another ofo worker, Nikolai Mell, wrote about working conditions in a post on Reddit on Saturday and quit on Monday.

KIRO 7 also talked with someone who is still employed and didn’t want to be identified for fear of losing their job.

They all shared the same concerns.

“With safety, there’s a lot of guys riding in the back of vans with no seat belts. So you have no seat belts, right, nothing to restrain the guys,” Healy said.

Healy and Mell said there are two seats up front with seat belts, but frequently two to four additional workers sit in the back of the vans, with the bikes, which are also unrestrained.

“We’d sit on the little metal bumps over the back tires,” Mell said. “We were supposed to grab on or grip on to the plastic seams. We were one accident away from all of us turning into spaghetti,” he said during a FaceTime interview with KIRO 7.

But Healy said an even bigger concern is that there are only 15 to 20 employees responsible for picking up illegally parked or broken down ofo bikes, and many of those employees are homeless.

He believes ofo is taking advantage of people who aren’t able to simply leave the job, as he and Mell have done.

“One hundred percent. It’s cheap labor for them,” Healy said. “We were asked to do more with less. So working conditions got worse and worse.”

Their other concerns include a lack of rain gear, no gloves to handle broken bikes and no place to use a bathroom while on the job.

KIRO 7 contacted the Millionair Club Charity and ofo about the workers’ concerns.

The Millionair Club said in a statement: “An MCC staff member will audit the working conditions and make recommendations for safety improvements, as safety of our workers is of the utmost importance.”

ofo said in a statement:

“There’s nothing more important than our ofo family and ensuring those we work with feel safe, respected and valued.”

KIRO 7 also spoke on the phone with a Seattle worker whom ofo encouraged us to speak with. That employee said he did not find working conditions to be unsafe.

“This is the first job I’ve ever had wanting to wake up and go to work,” said John Calkins, who’s also on the Millionair Club Charity payroll and has worked with ofo for about five months.

Full statements from Millionair Club Charity and ofo are below.

From ofo:

There’s nothing more important than our ofo family and ensuring those we work with feel safe, respected and valued. As ofo’s first city in the US, Seattle is a special place to us, and we’re proud of our partnership with the City, the work opportunities we’ve created, and our commitment to give back in every community we serve.

From Millionair Club:

Millionair Club Charity staff learned of the concerns posted online mid-morning Sunday, January 7, which we take very seriously. Safety and respect for our workers is a top priority. We are currently gathering information as quickly as possible so that we can address these concerns.
“Individuals in MCC’s employment program have access to information regarding Office of Labor Standards ordinances and regulations, on-the-job safety and resources should they have a concern about wages, safety or any working conditions.”

“I can also add this: As we do with all new employment contracts, an MCC staff member will audit the working conditions and make recommendations for safety improvements, as safety of our workers is of the utmost importance.

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