The battle for gig worker rights has come to Canada, where the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has launched the Gig Workers United campaign. It is the latest in the global movement to increase wages and improve working conditions for gig workers who rely on app-based companies for employment.
“We have to stand up for ourselves — the streets don’t look out for us, the apps don’t look out for us, so we’re looking out for each other and collectively calling out a bad business model,” Narada Kiondo, one of the courier spokespersons for Gig Workers United, said in a statement announcing the organizing effort. “The way it is just can’t continue — if the gig economy is going to work for our society then it can’t be based on squeezing delivery workers and restaurants for profit and dodging our labor standards. And we’re going to persist, and we’ll win, because our bodies and our livelihoods are on the line.”
The roots of the organizing effort were in a similar effort two years ago. The Justice for Foodora Couriers worked to unionize delivery app Foodora couriers. The German company expanded to Canada in 2015. Foodora claimed that couriers were independent contractors and not entitled to form a union. On March 4, 2020, the Ontario Labor Relations Board ruled that Foodora couriers were “dependent contractors” and therefore could unionize.
On April 27, 2020, Foodora announced it was closing its Canadian operations.
Jan Simpson, national president of CUPW, said the lessons from the Foodora fight are that gig workers have rights to unionize.
“The couriers have shown that traditional union organizing is possible in this space. But they’ve gone farther than that, with community-organizing tactics and collective mutual aid. They’ve formed a worker-led organization that we’re proud to support because their fresh energy and ideas are what it takes to improve working conditions and reject Silicon Valley’s model of exploitation,” Simpson said in a statement.
The battle for gig worker rights is expanding across the globe. Earlier this month, a court in the U.K. ruled Uber Technologies (NYSE: UBER) drivers in London were entitled to minimum wage, essentially making them employees. Uber had appealed a lower court ruling, but the U.K. Supreme Court rejected its argument, saying it was “clear … that claimant drivers were workers who worked for Uber London under ‘worker’s contracts.’” It also said the fact that an Uber driver could turn down work “is not fatal to a finding that the individual is an employee … and does not preclude a finding that the individual is employed under a worker’s contract.”
The nature of the relationship between Uber and its drivers means that the drivers “have little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill,” the court wrote. “In practice the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance.”
In the U.S., much of the fight over the status of gig drivers has taken place in California, where voters passed Proposition 22 in November with 58% of the vote. Prop 22 removed Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig drivers from compliance with Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). That bill required companies to treat the drivers as employees.
Prop 22 did include certain provisions for drivers, including new earnings guarantees and health-care stipends among others, but it allows the gig workers to remain independent.