Uber Technologies Inc. has signed an agreement with a private sector union that will provide representation to Canadian drivers and couriers, but does not unionize workers.
The San Francisco, Calif-based tech giant said Thursday that it is partnering with United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, a union representing at least 250,000 workers at companies including Maple Leaf Foods Inc., Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Molson Coors Beverage Co.
The partnership will give UFCW Canada the ability to provide representation to about 100,000 Canadian drivers and couriers, if requested by the workers, when they are facing account deactivations and other disputes with Uber.
Workers will not be charged for the representation services, which will be jointly covered by Uber and UFCW Canada.
“We’ve come together to find common ground and blaze a new trail towards a better future for app-based workers,” said Andrew Macdonald, Uber’s senior vice-president of global rides and platform, in a release.
“Through this agreement, we’re prioritizing what drivers and delivery people tell us they want: enhancing their flexibility to work if, when, and where they want with a stronger voice and new benefits and protections.”
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Uber drivers and couriers are considered to be independent contractors because they can choose when, where and how often they work, but in exchange, they have no job security, vacation pay or other benefits.
The move to offer Uber workers more supports in Canada comes as the tech giant is facing increasing global pressure to recognize couriers and drivers as employees and to, at least, better compensate and give them more rights.
Samfiru Tumarkin lawyer Samara Belitzky, for example, has been representing Uber Eats courier David Heller in a class-action lawsuit arguing those working for Uber should be entitled to minimum wage, vacation pay and other protections because they meet the definition of employees under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.
Belitzky doesn’t think the agreement announced Thursday will impact workers much.
“On paper, it looks like it may be giving some very limited additional rights or benefits to the drivers, but practically speaking, it doesn’t give them very much,” she said.
The agreement also raises conflict-of-interest concerns because Uber will be paying for the representation going up against the company.
“If I was a driver for Uber… I’d be a bit worried about where their interests may lie,” she said.
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Belitzky also noted that UFCW previously criticized Uber for several issues it outlined on its website, but has since replaced that content with details of the agreement.
“This may be Uber’s way of trying to quell the concerns of the union,” she said.
UFCW Canada’s page previously said drivers often spent more than 100 hours logged onto the Uber app and awaiting work each week, leaving them paid well below minimum wage for the hours they spend providing rides.
It has also complained that Uber drivers are subject to deactivation if their ratings – scores offered as feedback by consumers – drop below a certain threshold. UFCW Canada has said this practice can force a driver out of work, if they refuse customer demands to ignore traffic rules or city bylaws.
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The union has also raised concerns about what little recourse Uber drivers and couriers have when they face harassment and abuse on the job because they are not eligible for workers’ compensation, vacation pay, overtime or pension protection.
As part of UFCW Canada’s agreement with Uber, both groups say they will work to encourage provinces to mandate policies providing gig workers with new benefits and other rights.
“This is just a starting point for the many issues we need to address,” said Paul Meinema, UFCW Canada’s national president, in a video announcing the agreement.
“Uber Canada and UFCW Canada will jointly advocate for industry-wide legislative standards like minimum wage guarantees, a benefits fund, a path to organizing, and other rights for workers in the app-based sector.”
Uber spent much of last year pitching Canadians on a model it calls Flexible Work+. The model asks provinces and territories to force Uber and other app-based companies to create a self-directed benefit fund to disperse to workers for prescriptions, dental and vision care, RRSPs or tuition.
Workers have said the model still won’t offer all the protections they desire and accused Uber of using the pitch to avoid treating drivers and couriers as employees.
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