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Sun, 05/19/2019 - 10:04

Food delivery workers mount union drive to take on ‘gig economy’

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TESS SIKSAY WANTS TO ADD A UNION TO THE MENU. She is part of a team working to organize the food delivery workers at Foodora in Toronto.

Tess Siksay is part of a team organizing a union for the app-based food delivery company Foodora

TESS SIKSAY WANTS TO ADD A UNION TO THE MENU. She is part of a team working to organize the food delivery workers at Foodora in Toronto.

The Foodora couriers and CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers) launched their “Justice for Foodora couriers” union drive on May 1 with a loud bike rally in front of the Foodora head office on King St. in downtown Toronto.

The workers captured the heart of their issue with their chant:“Gig economy, same old crap? Exploitation in an app!”

If the union drive is successful it will be a world first. The Foodora workers will be the first workers in the so-called “gig economy” to join a union—unless the Uber Eats drivers, who are in the middle of their own union drive, get there first.

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Foodora couriers rally outside Foodora head office to launch their union drive May 1

Long list of drawbacks

The Foodora couriers are tired of low wages, dangerous working conditions, and the lack of respect their employer shows them. And they’re fed up with receiving none of the rights of an employee, despite having all of their responsibilities.

“In the more than three years I’ve been working for Foodora, I’ve seen the respect they show their workers slowly but steadily decline,” says courier Alexander Kurth.

“Our wages have stagnated or even declined while inflation and costs of living have increased, and our overall working conditions have become increasingly precarious, unreliable, and unfair.”

Some of the biggest challenges Alexander and his fellow workers have to deal with include paying for their own bike repairs, having no guaranteed shifts, lacking access to healthcare, and performing unpaid work.

Precarity and poverty

Foodora’s workers are paid $4.50 per order plus $1 per kilometre between the restaurant and delivery address.

That doesn’t account for time spent getting to the restaurant, waiting for the food to be ready, traveling to peak delivery zones, or waiting for orders to come in. The end result is zero guaranteed income, and wild variations in daily pay.

Another courier explained how workers never know from one week to the next how they’ll be working. “If we get a shift drop at 10 o’clock, literally at 10:01 everything’s taken,” adds Hunter Sanassian. “And once the shifts are gone, that’s it.”

Foodora only pays the workers for the time they cycle from the restaurant to the customer’s home. They are not paid for the time it takes to cycle back to the restaurant. This means couriers spend about half of each shift cycling to restaurants to pick up deliveries. Couriers are expected to do this for free.

According to a 2017 report by US investment firm Cowen, total food delivery sales in the United States will increase from $43 billion in 2017 to a whopping $76 billion in 2022.

Statistics Canada doesn’t measure the size of the Canadian food delivery industry. However, the Winnipeg based Skip the Dishes food delivery service reported an 11,000 percent increase in revenue between 2013 and 2016.

Classed as ‘independent contractors’

“The reality of our work is that we are in no way independent," explains Alexander. "We are told what to do, where to be and when to be there, and what we get paid. None of this is negotiable. We have all the responsibilities of employees without any of the protections,”

This means that the employer is not obliged to offer any workplace or health benefits to its workers, or even any guarantee of working hours.

CUPW insists that Foodora couriers should be recognized as employees. Food delivery workers in other countries are arguing the same point and winning.

Last November, for example, a Foodora courier in Australia won a court decision to be classified as an employee, which resulted in him receiving $15,000 compensation from the company.

Workers at other delivery companies, like Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes, are also speaking out.

One Ontario Uber Eats worker told the CBC that the company left him all alone to fend for himself after being injured on the job. His story led the Ontario’s Workplace Safety Board to open an investigation into Uber Eats.

Another worker told of how Uber Eats never contacted him to offer support when he suffered broken bones after crashing into a car door while on the job.

“After I realized I was not going to have enough money to pay all my bills, I was really stressed,” he said. “I didn’t have enough money to pay my food, to save money for everything. I even [had] to ask for money from my dad.”

Foodora couriers in Toronto have decisively rejected the bogus claims made by employers about the “freedom,” “flexibility,” and “independence” such jobs are supposed to offer. The dark truth of the gig economy continues to prompt more and more workers to see the light and the need to unionize. As the Foodora workers chanted on May 1: “Gig economy, same old crap? Exploitation in an app!”

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