Category Archives: canada

Delivery Driver Unions and Resistance are Growing

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.

ACORN Canada staff at YEYB in Quebec City!

Consolidating the Fight Against Housing Displacement in Canada

Quebec City    After a day of training and reports, the ACORN Canada organizing staff really got serious when the Year End / Year Begin meeting began no holds barred wrestling with campaigns.  The discussion was particularly intense around the dual crises of affordable housing, beyond the reach of many members, especially in the urban centers, and displacement of these same tenant families in these red-hot markets that have been well publicized in Toronto and Vancouver, but are equally problematic in Ottawa, Hamilton and other cities.

The platform for the discussion was the breakthrough victories in the western cities of Burnaby and New Westminster, abutting Vancouver.  As Vancouver has become increasingly unaffordable and the playground of the rich and foreign investors pushing prices past seven figures, pressure on prices and housing stock has led to speculation and displacement that we have termed “demovictions,” when tenants are evicted so that landlords and developers can demolish these three-story, ten apartment units to erect huge, towering apartment and condo towers.  In previous years’ meetings, the decade long campaign that had finally succeeded in winning landlord licensing and inspections with real penalties in Toronto had been the centerpiece topic.  ACORN groups in Ottawa and Hamilton had carried that campaign forward in those cities.  Now the debate centered on how to nationalize the victories in the west across Canada.

The victory in Burnaby had been long in coming as well, but was sweeping.  ACORN’s campaign and leaders had moved the city council to pass arguably the strongest tenant protections around displacement in North America.  When a qualifying building is scheduled for demolition and redevelopment under the new bylaw, the displaced tenants would be given a monthly rent top-off from the time they are moved out of their old unit, until they are moved back into the unit.  The rent supplement would be the area median rent plus 30%.  In 2019, that calculated to $1820 for a two-bedroom or $1545 for a one-bedroom, assuring the tenant of being able to successfully find alternative housing.  The real kicker is that once the redevelopment is completed, the tenant has the right to return to her old apartment at the same rent as when they left, coupling the scourge of displacement with what is effectively rent control.

This is great public policy.  The city doesn’t lose any affordable housing nor are tenants permanently displaced, even tough temporarily inconvenienced, the city gains more housing units, and despite all of their whining the developers make their money back and more from the new apartments they are adding.

Will it still lead to gentrification?  Yes, to some degree, since the new units, either rented or sold, will undoubtedly absorb the costs of the relocation and the retained affordable units.  Rents on those units will rise with inflation a couple of points per year, but low-and-moderate income families trying to move to Burnaby will be forced farther out to find affordable housing.  The only solution for that problem is the one that cities, provincial and national governments in Canada and around the world are still avoiding:  building more public housing.  The national housing policy envisions a rent subsidy for 300,000 families of up to $2500 per year, but that’s another story.

Nonetheless, ACORN Canada is clear.  This is what works.  Time to make the demands nationally, city to city, province to province.  These victories are benchmarks, so the stalling and excuses from city staffers and electeds won’t wash anymore.  There is a program that is winning, and a plan to make it work everywhere.