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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Unions sound alarm on Uber push to "reinvent app-based work"

“This U.S.-style campaign to take away workers’ rights must be rejected. Gig workers deserve the same rights and protections as all other employees in Ontario.” - Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President

Unions are sounding the alarm about what the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) says is an attempt by app-based giant Uber Canada to rewrite "employment laws to trap its drivers in sub-minimum wage work."

Last week the company launched a campaign that they claim would "reinvent app-based work" by calling on governments in Canada to change what Uber says is an "unfair labour system in which some workers get benefits and protections while others do not." The irony, of course, is that the reason that gig and Uber workers do not get these "benefits and protections" has nothing to do with "unfair" labour laws, but rather the ongoing fight by app-based employers to continue to deny their employees the protections of existing labour laws by claiming they are not employees.

Uber, in effect, is trying to get governments to entrench the second-class status of their own workers by modifying existing labour laws so that Uber style companies would be "required" to offer a more limited set of benefits and protections.

Called "Flexible+" Uber is hoping for a legal framework for app and gig workers akin to what it accomplished in California with the victory of Proposition 22.

Uber proposes rules requiring it and other gig companies to provide “self-directed benefits” to their drivers based on hours worked and certain unspecified additional safety training and tools. These changes would deny gig workers core protections afforded to employees in Ontario like the minimum wage and overtime pay, as well as the reimbursement of expenses to ensure that their wages meet these minimum standards...
“This U.S.-style campaign to take away workers’ rights must be rejected,” said Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President. “Gig workers deserve the same rights and protections as all other employees in Ontario.”
Uber has suggested that it needs its requested exemptions in order to provide the benefits it proposes, but this insinuation is not correct.
“If Uber wanted to provide its drivers with benefits or enhanced training it could do so right now,” explained Coates. “Instead, Uber is using the promise of these modest benefits as a political trade-off for critical workplace rights and carving its drivers out of basic employment protections forever. It’s a false choice that must be rejected.”

The OFL is demanding that the government of Ontario reject the Uber proposals and "take action to proactively enforce gig workers’ rights under the Employment Standards Act, and to clarify their status as employees."

John Di Nino, Canadian President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said in a press release March 12 that:

The real intent of the Flexible+ model is reshaping who is a worker and who isn’t. Private rideshare companies do not want their employees to be able to unionize. They are trying to create new classification to suit their bottom line and workers in Canada should resist this. We stand in solidarity with organizations such as Gig Workers United, CUPW, UFCW and RideFairTO in organized rank and file resistance to the further exploitation of rideshare drivers...
After the State of California legislated that the drivers are employees and the company must pay into state benefits, Silicon Valley spent over $200-million to change the law. Silicon Valley is not just posing an economic threat, they pose a political threat to Canadian democracy. Workers must collectively resist.

With the support of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Gig Workers United is trying to do just that in the Toronto area. They are "organizing for the transparent pay, livable wages, improved health and safety conditions, and labour protections we deserve."

Gig Workers United wants exactly what Uber is trying to prevent -- for labour laws and rights to be extended to app-based workers. On their website they note that for "all their big talk, the greatest innovation of app employers is finding ways to continually extract the most out of workers, paying them as little as possible."

App-based employers act this way because they have been allowed to misclassify you as a worker who isn’t entitled to rights. We know that everyone who does the hard, dirty, vital work that we do, deserves to thrive. We deserve labour protections, paid breaks, the right to unionize, and recourse for wrongful dismissal and wage theft. Collective action means uniting all workers together to demand, and win, the rights that we should be entitled to - for ourselves and for our fellow gig workers.

They are encouraging workers who "deliver food, packages, and other goods for an app-based service" to join via the webpage and get involved in the organizing efforts.

The Gig Workers United campaign comes as Uber Drivers United organized by UFCW Canada is "signing up hundreds of Uber Black drivers in Toronto and spearheading organizing efforts in British Columbia" to "bring justice and fairness to Uber and other ride-hailing drivers." This campaign is now taking on Uber in the courts having filed an Unfair Labour Practice application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board in February.


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