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Toronto’s Uber Drivers Are Unionizing And Threatening to Disrupt the Low-Wage ‘Gig Economy’

Uber classifies drivers as independent contractors but UFCW says the drivers are employees deserving of basic rights

June 28, 2019

Hundreds of Uber drivers across Ontario have signed union cards with the United Food and Commercial Workers, after years of working without basic employment protections. 

Uber drivers in Toronto and elsewhere are designated independent contractors by the company. That means no minimum wage, no breaks, no sick days, few safety protections and no bargaining rights.

UFCW noted that after costs, most Uber drivers earn less than $10 an hour — that’s roughly two-thirds of the minimum wage. 

But Pablo Godoy, UFCW’s National Co-ordinator for Gig and Platform-Employer Initiatives, told PressProgress that although Uber drivers don’t have the same bargaining rights as other employees, anyone has the right to sign a union card.

Since the news came out, We’ve had an outpouring in people signing up and telling us our stories, asking to be represented,” Godoy said. 

And while Uber classifies its drivers as independent contractors, UFCW says the drivers are, in fact, employees deserving of basic rights.

“We know they say they’re not an employer but we also know nearly all the money they rake in comes from the drivers — that’s an employer relationship where they make the money on the backs of the drivers not just from people using their app,” Godoy said.

UFCW also notes Uber has the power to remove its drivers’ apps after complaints, as a way to terminate drivers, and the company’s contracts dictate the terms of drivers’ hiring.

The provincial Ministry of Labour says it isn’t enough that a contractor be deemed one in a contract. If a worker meets the listed criteria, they are an employee entitled to the same ESA protections as others.

A contractor may be an employee if among other things their work is an “important part” of the business, if the business decides what the worker does, if the worker cannot subcontract work to someone else and if the business has the right to suspend, dismiss or otherwise discipline the worker.

Source: Ontario Ministry of Labour

Uber did not respond to PressProgress’ request for comment.

But elsewhere the company has argued its drivers are contractors because they provide their own vehicles, choose when and where to provide services and are allowed to provide services to competitors. 

Nevertheless, the company has warned “we may not be successful in defending the independent contractor status of Drivers in some or all jurisdictions.”

The company also argues that paying its drivers a minimum wage could harm its business model and “financial condition.”

Earlier this year, the Ontario Court Of Appeal heard a case arguing Uber drivers are employees. Although the court punted that question, it allowed a class-action suit to proceed.

CBC News reported the Court of Appeal’s decision is set to move to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Godoy said the union is looking to get as many cards signed by drivers as possible and bring their demands to the company asking for bargaining recognition

“Any worker is free to join a union but whether an employer is pushed to recognize us is the question. Everything is on the table to ensure that but asking them to meet with us is the most civil means,” he said.

“Should that fail? We will be exploring alternatives,” he said, noting “we see an un-traditional industry? That necessitates an un-traditional response.”



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