Edmonton-based ride-hailing service TappCar has invited the Teamsters union to unionize its future drivers in what the company says is an attempt to attract and retain top-quality drivers and, ultimately, to provide better service.
"We believe that having a unionized workforce will make our workers happy," TappCar spokesman Pascal Ryffel said. "And a happy worker is a happy customer. And I think that if we have happy customers, that will be good for our bottom line."
TappCar's two main founders - lawyers Shayne Saskiw and Jonathan Wescott - are well-known for their right-wing conservative views. Saskiw is a former Wildrose MLA and Wescott was once the Wildrose party's executive director.
But Ryffel, a former NDP staffer, said it made business sense to bring in a union.
"We went around the premise that a lot of drivers in this industry haven't always been treated fairly," he said. "So we wanted to make sure that we would have happy drivers that were content and respected in the workplace."
Ryffel said the TappCar business model is built around the premise that its drivers will be happier, and provide better service, if they can make a decent wage, working full-time hours in a respectful workplace.
Drivers will get access to a mediated complaints process, plus health benefits and pension at good rates because of the economic heft of the Teamsters, one of the biggest, most powerful unions in North America.
TappCar chose the Teamsters union, which has no ownership stake in the company, because it already has experience representing taxi drivers in Fort McMurray and other cities in Canada and the United States.
Saskiw and Wescott are both principals with the legal and lobbying firm Alberta Counsel Ltd., where they work alongside Ryffel. On August 26, 2015, the firm registered as lobbyists for the a Teamsters union branch. It is currently lobbying several government departments in relation to "commercial car services, ride sharing services, insurance and licensing."
Ryffel said they have already had applications from taxi drivers, some Uber drivers and professional drivers who recently lost their jobs in Fort McMurray and elsewhere in the oilpatch.
Competition for Uber
TappCar is the one of the first of what is expected to be several challengers to Uber in the emerging technology-based, ride-hailing business in Edmonton.
Uber suspended its Edmonton operations after the Alberta government on Monday announced the insurance required for Uber to meet the conditions of the city's new ride-hailing bylaw would not be available until July 1.
Intact Insurance has developed a policy specifically for companies like Uber, but it needs approval from Alberta's superintendent of insurance. The Intact policy would be purchased by Uber and would cover all of its drivers when they pick up passengers.
Last week, Intact said the superintendent of insurance approved the technical aspects of the policy but had not reached a final agreement.
In addition to obtaining the correct insurance, the provincial government said Uber drivers must hold Class 4 licences - a stipulation Uber had asked the government to waive - and must pass a police information check.
Uber said it will continue to operate in communities outside Edmonton.
Ryffel said TappCar already has commercial insurance, requires Class 4 licences and police background checks for its drivers.
The drivers, using their own vehicles, will have two payment options to be part of the company's app-based dispatch system. They can pay $125 a week plus 15 per cent of each fare or a flat fee of $250 a week. These fees will covers all administrative costs, a call centre, marketing, car decals, insurance, pension contributions, and the $70-a-month union dues.
But Ryffel stressed discussions with the Teamsters are ongoing and there has been no final agreement yet.
TappCar is expected to announce its launch date next week, but Ryffel said the company is aiming for mid-March.