New Orleans Traveling in other cities both in the United States and around the world, it sometimes seems like food delivery workers are everywhere on either scooters or bicycles. The soft box on their backs or the hard one behind their seats to hold containers of food and keep it all warm until they show up at some customer’s door are huge as if they were trekking up a mountain side with a logo emblazoned on their backs in this heavily competitive industry. UberEats, Postmates, DoorDash are all big in the United States and in some other countries where you will also find Deliveroo, Caviar, and the like.
The industry seems populated by new immigrants and young workers. The business model attempts to claim the workers as subcontractors. California has increasingly moved to classify such platform or app-based workers as employees rather than direct hires entitled to standard laws and protections, but elsewhere progress is slow in the United States.
In a major breakthrough in building a union of these workers, a recent decision of the Ontario Labour Board on this question in Canada is huge, as they ruled the workers were entitled to formally be recognized as a union, organized by the Canadian Union of Postal workers (CUPW), because they were not independent contractors. Their decision countered that of their employer, Foodora, a German-owned delivery company. The Toronto Star reported that…
The decision accepts CUPW’s position that couriers are dependent contractors — a middle ground between traditional employees and independent contractors that gives workers the right to join a union. The board pointed to a long list of contributing factors, including the fact that Foodora maintains a “Strike Log” that monitors couriers’ behaviour and job performance. Couriers were sometimes disciplined by Foodora or even “de-activated” from the app for poor performance. The board also found that couriers have little opportunity to act as true entrepreneurs. Their pay rates are set by Foodora and they are not given the opportunity to negotiate their contract with the company. Their access to shifts is also controlled by Foodora. Couriers also cannot develop their own relationships with restaurants or customers, or sub-contract work to other couriers. Foodora argued that its couriers were independent entrepreneurs in part because they could freely work for competitors like Uber Eats. The board rejected the argument. “This is not entrepreneurial activity,” the board ruled. “It is hard work.”
This decision could create opportunities throughout Canada and establish precedents elsewhere.
Our partner, ReAct in France, had organized a conference in Brussels in late 2018 of unions interested in organizing platform workers. Recently, I interviewed Callum Cant, an ACORN member and activist in Brighton, England, on Wade’s World about his experience as a bicycle rider for Deliveroo that he also covered in his recently published book, Riding for Deliveroo: Resistance in the New Economy. Callum participated in the strike organized by Brighton drivers taking advantage of central collection points and communicating with each other via WhatsApp, as well as other actions in London and elsewhere.
Workers are rising to confront a very predatory business model. Before reaching into your pockets to support these companies ripping off both workers and consumers, we need to understand how the wheels are grinding all of down much better.