Foodsters demonstrate at Foodora offices in Toronto on May Day
IVÁN OSTOS ISN’T DONE. The bosses can take away his job but they can’t take away his desire for justice and a fair chance to earn a real living. He’ not alone.
Iván works as a “foodster”—a bicycle courier who delivers restaurant meals. He works in Toronto for Foodora, an online app that offers meals from over 9,000 selected restaurants in several countries worldwide. Iván will be out of work on May 11 when Foodora closes down in Canada.
The Foodora corporate parent, based in Holland, posted revenue of more than $1.4 billion in 2019, and announced that overall sales had almost doubled in the first quarter of 2020, as the COVID-19 lockdowns brought a surge in demand for delivered meals. But, in Canada it’s been a different story, they say.
The Foodora operation in Canada has filed for bankruptcy. Court filings show they owe more than $4.7 million to hundreds of restaurants, and other creditors, all across Canada.
Union busting pure and simple
The whole thing is more than a little “suspicious,” says Jan Simpson, CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Worker) National President. It just seems like a drastic measure for a huge corporation to take—particularly when it has the finances to restructure and carry on. Simpson believes the real reason the company is shutting down here is the fact the Foodora workers recently won the right to join CUPW.
“It’s suspicious timing, then, for Foodora Canada to claim they can’t survive in this market. Couriers have been working hard to deal with the surge in demand, and now suddenly they don’t know how they’ll make ends meet in two weeks,” continued Simpson.
CUPW filed an unfair labour practices complaint with the OLRB (Ontario Labour Relastions Board) April 29 accusing Foodora of union busting.
“Foodora may try to cut and run, but they can’t hide from their responsibilities,” says Simpson. “Foodora made lots of money in this country on the backs of the couriers’ hard work in treacherous conditions, and these couriers don’t deserve to be abandoned in the uncertainty of a pandemic. They have rights and we’ll stand up for them.”
The OLRB has yet to release the results of August’s union representation vote among the couriers. A yes vote will lead to certification of CUPW as the couriers’ bargaining agent.
During the voting, Foodora engaged in an anti-union campaign via the very app the foodsters use to connect with their employer—which led the union to file a still unresolved unfair labour practices complaint.
Hardly a model employer
Foodora was never going to win any “employer of the year award.” Not before the successful union drive, and not in this time of high stress from the pandemic.
A post on the Justice for Foodora Couriers website reads: “As gig workers we are struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Foodora isn’t providing us with PPE, isn’t enforcing contact free deliveries or access to bathrooms during our shifts. If we keep working we have to pay for any PPE that we can find, on top of all the normal costs associated with working. Shifts can be difficult to get and wages haven’t increased to reflect the risk we take by delivering food to our community.
“The consequence of Foodora’s decision is an extreme example of what it means to have precarious employment.
“With the significant delay to updates regarding the CERB for low income earners we are uncertain if there is any help on the way. Those of us who continue to work are concerned about the consequences of not having paid sick leave.
Foodsters rise again
“CUPW doesn’t plan to let Foodora and their parent company off the hook,” says Jean-Philippe Grenier, CUPW 3rd National Vice-President, “and the couriers themselves remain determined to be part of the worldwide effort to fix working conditions in the gig economy.”
The Foodsters have immediately regrouped to plan how to support one another. They held a protest in front of Foodora offices in Toronto on May Day. The spirit and strength of the Justice for Foodora Couriers campaign continues to burn bright.
“The foodsters have been running this campaign with true hearts and dedicated trade-union values,” says Grenier. “We should all be proud and inspired by what they have built so far.”
“We’ll get each other through this,” says foodster Iván Ostos.
“After this crisis passes, and after the COVID-19 pandemic passes, we’re still a dedicated group of workers prepared to step up and demand better conditions and rights for gig workers.
“We’ve built something together, something valuable. Our goals and our values mean as much as ever.
“Employers come and go but somebody has to deal with the gig economy. It’s about our survival and our future.”
Please support their hardship fund: Couriers have been given two weeks notice. Please donate to support the couriers: https://fundrazr.com/FoodstersUnited
Send them notes, letters, or videos expressing your solidarity at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tag @FoodstersUnited on Twitter and @UnitedFoodsters on Instagram.
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