Category Archives: Financial Justice

App Delivery as Part of the “Care” Industry

New Orleans        I’m scratching my head trying to figure out what kind of sand platform applications around food delivery are built on.  The workers are hardly paid, precarious and unhappy.  The restaurants are complaining and organizing for protection in some cities, and trying to figure out how to make money on the promise of added customers.  The pricing is predatory and exorbitant with the delivery companies pyramiding fees and charges by adding delivery and servicing fees on top of each other to add one-third to almost a doubling of the costs for the meal when the tab is paid.  Uber Eats, DoorDash, Postmates, GrubHub, and others are all in and out of fashion as tech darlings with gazillions of investor money for operations that are bleeding money as fast as their delivery people can run up the door to drop the food.

Talking recently to ACORN member in Brighton, England, and former Deliveroo driver, and author of Riding for Deliveroo, Callum Cant, he made two points on Wade’s World that keep coming back to me as an explanation for these huge contradictions.

First, remember that he noted that most of the food they are delivering is not the give-me-a-treat-of-a-special-dinner-at-home thing.  It’s exactly the kind of fast food that the New York Times reporter priced when he did his comparison shopping at Subways and Panda Express.  In fact, it’s fast food outlets like McDonalds where Deliveroo drivers congregated, because that’s where the orders were flying off the shelves.  It is also the fast food companies that are negotiating special deals with certain delivery services that are making some of them seem potentially profitable.  McDonalds, pizza places, and the like are essentially subcontracting delivery that they used to do themselves or wanted to do without the sunk cost of employees and benefits.  As Cant pointed out, the marketing is gourmet, but the product is cheap and greasy.

The second observation Cant offered that seems especially spot on, is that this only makes sense if you see it as part of the “care” industry.  In the United Kingdom care workers are what North Americans would call healthcare, nursing home, or home care workers.  People are using these services because they are too exhausted to cook dinner, making the Times’ reporter’s suggestion that they make something at home and healthy miss the point entirely.  Cant noted that customers are almost always ordering at the low end of the menu and doing so at fast food outlets and similar spots.  The customer base is not high end, but working people just a smidgen less precarious than the workers themselves, running between part-time jobs, school, and families, and trying to finally collapse for a minute and have the food appear quickly despite the price, all of which defines a predatory operation.

The business model for platform capitalism, as many call it, is rooted right at the hard, sharp end of global capitalism itself and sweating out the last dollars, pounds, and euros from families who have been squeezed by work and the loss of any leisure then forced to eat crud and pay for it through the nose.  This is an insufferable business model for everyone.  It’s hard to believe it’s sustainable.

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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.

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