As It Happens

Foodora courier fed up with delivery company's efforts to put the brakes on unionization

Foodora workers' push to unionize in the gig economy is "really just the first battle in a much bigger war," says courier and union organizer Alex Kurth.

'The gig economy as a whole is a scam,' says Toronto courier and union organizer

Alex Kurth is hopeful that the Ontario's Labour Relations Board will unseal ballots in a Foodora unionization vote. (Tess Siksay)
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Foodora workers' push to unionize in the gig economy is "really just the first battle in a much bigger war," says courier and union organizer Alex Kurth.

This week, couriers for the food delivery company in Toronto voted on union certification — but the results won't be revealed until Ontario's Labour Relations Board decides whether they had the right to cast the ballots in the first place. 

"Beyond the fact that current Canadian legislation dictates you cannot unionize as a group of independent contractors, there are many reasons why we don't believe our couriers need a union to effect change," Foodora spokesperson Sadie Weinstein said in a emailed statement. 

She cited potential impact on couriers' flexibility, and also the concern that union dues "could be detrimental to most participants in the gig economy, including newcomers to Canada."

Kurth, who has been working for Foodora for over three years, spoke with As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal. Here's part of their conversation.

Foodora is challenging the validity of what you're trying to do, partly by claiming that not enough couriers signed pledge cards to trigger a vote in the first place. What's your response to that?  

This is a very common dirty trick that we were expecting them to pull. 

Pretty much every company will try to inflate their list of workers ... but we're quite confident that we'll be able to prove that some of these — a good portion of these names that they've submitted — are not currently active workers for Foodora and that our 40 per cent was reached with quite a good margin.

[Foodora] says ...  you're independent contractors so not eligible to unionize under Ontario's Labour Relations Act. Why do you believe you and the other couriers should be deemed dependent contractors?

I think it's pretty clear if you look at the nature of the work itself, there's a quite clear definition under the Ontario Labour Relations Act of what an independent contractor is and is not. We fail almost all, if not all, of the points that are clearly specified in that law. 

We really have no independence. We're entirely dependent on Foodora for our deliveries. We can't just show up at a restaurant and say, "Hey, do you have any deliveries that I could do for you?" 

Foodora really controls every aspect of our work. So there really is no independence there at all.

Foodora couriers can often be seen cycling in some cities with pink coolers on their backs. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters )

But Foodora is also part of the gig economy that we talk about so much. And other companies — Uber, for example — are saying there's a give and take here ... that having the flexibility and the independence of being part of the gig economy is part of the deal.

Well, that flexibility that they like to tout is really an illusion. Certainly, in some companies there is the ability to just sign on and sign off at any time that you want. That is not the case with Foodora. 

They create shifts ahead of time based upon what kind of staffing they think that they'll need and then they just offer those shifts up and you basically claim those shifts and commit to them.

So really, you are committing to work for that company for those given hours and then, other than being able to say yes or no to those shifts, the independence is really an illusion and it's just a way for the company to escape their responsibilities towards their workers. 

Kurth is a union organizer who has been working for Foodora for more than three years. (Tess Siksay)

What is a day in the life of a Foodora courier ... like? How much do you make?

Basically, at the time that you are scheduled to work, you log in to the app. You need to be within the zone that you are scheduled to work for and then you wait for an order. 

Part of the problem with this payment model where we just get paid per delivery is that there are no guarantees on how much money we will make. Even though we are signed in, we are waiting for orders, we are committing our time to Foodora to do these deliveries, if there are just not enough orders to go around, then we are not getting paid. 

We're only getting paid while we're doing a delivery and even that is only part of it. So we get a flat rate of $4.50 for an order and then we get paid a dollar per kilometre from the restaurant to the customer's house. 

What we don't get paid for is any of the kilometres or time that we spend going to the restaurants, any time that we spend waiting at the restaurant. ... We don't get paid for any wait time at the customer's residence. 

In a statement that Foodora sent to CBC earlier this week, the company said ... "Foodora has always had an open-door policy for couriers to drop by anytime to discuss their challenges or issues with us." Have you tried to discuss your challenges with Foodora? 

Of course. 

I've been trying to change some things by talking to the management since Day 1. In the early days, you know, it really felt like there was sympathy. 

After a while it became clear that was no longer the case. 

It really became clear that the only way that things were going to change was if we started to take back some of our power as workers and start demanding these changes. 

This is really just the first battle in a much bigger war.- Foodora courier Alex Kurth

We've certainly seen the rise of companies, including Uber and Lyft and all of the food delivery companies in every major city. So you're not just up against Foodora — you're really up against an employment landscape that has changed, and changed fundamentally. So how optimistic are you that you can really fight that shift?

I feel like we're really starting something big here. We realize this is really only the beginning. 

The gig economy as a whole is a scam. It's founded upon misclassification of workers in an attempt to shirk basic legal responsibilities and basic workers' rights. 

So this is really just the first battle in a much bigger war. 

What will you do if the Labour Relations Board ends up siding with Foodora and rules that these ballots can't be opened?

We're going to reassess and see ... what other options we can take. I mean, we've really since the beginning of this had a number of options on how we could pursue this and how we could best go about doing this. 

We made our decisions based upon what we thought were our best options, but certainly not our only options.

I'm quite confident, if you look at the letter of the law, that the Labour Board will rule on on our behalf. There's really very little interpretation to be made there. 

Written by Katie Geleff and Chloe Shantz-Hilkes, with files from The Canadian Press. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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