BELLEVUE, Pa. — Rep. Chris Deluzio ordered a cup of cookies and cream and name-checked food delivery apps Grubhub and UberEats on Tuesday as he pitched a Democratic policy initiative during a visit at the Scoops ice cream store and other downtown businesses here.
Deluzio cited the apps as examples of big companies hitting consumers and small businesses with “junk fees,” a term President Joe Biden has seized on as an umbrella heading for efforts aimed at a host of industries, including banking, retail and travel.
The pitch by Deluzio, one of many being made by battleground Democrats this summer as corporate pushback starts to build, was welcomed by Scoops manager Nancy Denes, who said she had a “love-hate relationship” with delivery apps.
The shop uses Grubhub, but Denes said they “make less” on those orders than if someone orders directly from the shop. The charges can vary based on the contracts different Scoops shops in the Pittsburgh area have with the app, but she said a customer ordering through the app can result in a small business losing between 30 and 40 percent of a sale. She suggested that customers who want to order ahead for pickup call the store rather than go through an app.
Before stopping by a handful of businesses, Delzuio held a press conference at a pizza parlor where he highlighted what Democrats in Washington, he said, are doing to rein in the surprise charges faced by people and businesses. It’s an issue the first-term Democrat, who won his seat with 53 percent of the vote in a district Biden won by less than 6 points in 2020, says should be a focal point of Democrats’ effort to take control of the House next year.
“It is an easy story to tell. We’re on the side of you not getting ripped off and helping small businesses compete. That should be front and center of who we are as Democrats, and the Biden administration is doing this,” he said in an interview.
“It’s something I’m going to be talking about and certainly am glad to see President Biden push hard where he can through the FTC, CFPB, you name it,” he said, referring to the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
During the press conference, Tavern Pizza general manager Andrew Marciniak said the store recently underwent major changes because delivery apps made its business model unsustainable.
“Since the pandemic, delivery fees and prices went up both for us and for our customers. These fees may seem small, but they really add up,” he said. “The apps gave us no control and made it so much harder to communicate with our customers.”
The shop opted to bring delivery service in-house and rebrand, and the changes have been successful, he said.
“I’m thankful that Rep. Deluzio and the Biden administration are bringing attention to this issue,” he said.
Deluzio said junk fees are another example of “big corporations ripping off the little guy.”
The Progressive Change Institute, a nonprofit organization and affiliate of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, has helped to organize similar local events for members around the country. The push comes as the White House has sought to show this summer that “Bidenomics” is improving the economy.
“Unlike a tax bill that can be stressful once a year, junk fees hit many people every day or every week, which is why this issue is so resonant with the public and therefore resonant with political leaders,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Institute.
Both progressive and more centrist Democrats have held events this month. North Carolina Rep. Jeff Jackson held one last week in Charlotte, while Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is running for Senate, held one last week in Lansing, Mich. Fellow Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib did an event in Detroit, while Rep. Brendan Boyle talked about the issue in Philadelphia and Rep. Melanie Stansbury joined CFPB Director Rohit Chopra in Albuquerque, N. M.
Democrats’ focus on this issue comes after audience testing by Navigator Research found it to be one of the most popular parts of Biden’s State of the Union address this year.
Green said the group could help organize similar types of events that would draw attention to a “larger story about proactively bringing down costs for regular people and doing so by challenging corporate greed,” such as lowering costs for prescription drugs or child care as next year’s elections near.
Deluzio on Tuesday noted his support of a measure that would require the Department of Transportation to write regulations that would prohibit airlines from charging passengers certain unreasonable fees. He also noted that he proposed an amendment to a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration that would keep in place some consumer protections from deceptive airfare pricing, but the amendment was not adopted.
“Without a Democratic majority, I don’t think we can pass those bills right now,” he said.
But while Democrats see the issue as a clear winner, they face pushback, especially from businesses whose models rely on the fees. Last week, the Consumer Banking Association launched a campaign against a Biden administration proposal to limit credit card late fees, for example, and touted polling from earlier this year that showed 57 percent of Americans believe credit card late fees are legitimate and different from additional fees on things like concert tickets or hotel stays.
“As the voice of America’s leading retail banks in our nation’s Capital, this campaign reflects CBA’s firm commitment to convey the facts, correct misinformation, and ensure our members remain well-positioned to continue delivering on their mission across every community they serve,” CBA President and CEO Lindsey Johnson said in a statement.