Workers resist Uber scheme to undermine Canadian union drives


UBER HAS WHEELED OUT ANOTHER TROJAN HORSE. They call it “Flexible Work+”. It’s supposed to make life better for all its workers. It won’t. No more than Proposition 22 in California did.

Uber led a coalition of app-based employers who spent at least $224 million in a blizkrieg campaign to win approval of the anti-workers’ rights Proposition 22 in California in November 2020.

Proposition 22 would turn the gig workers back into “independent contractors”, unable to claim legal right to protections and benefits like paid sick time, overtime, and unemployment insurance.

The employers won with a Trojan horse strategy: the corporate giants presented themselves as the workers’ best friends. They pulled out all the stops to convince the California public that Proposition 22 was in the best interests of gig workers.

The employers even produced bogus polls of gig workers to prove how much gig workers themselves favoured Prop 22.

Uber will ‘reinvent work’

Uber’s new Flexible Work+ gambit is not limited to one state in the USA.. It’s March 10 press release says the corporation wants to “reinvent independent work” entirely—in Canada and everywhere else it operates in the world. All in a benevolent effort to do for gig workers what government can’t or won’t.

Uber claims it will start paying into individual benefits, while calling upon provincial governments to make changes to policies to improve work conditions.

Gig Workers United— a union representing food couriers and other platform-based workers— quickly denounced the proposal as “Prop 22 North.”

“This is a trojan horse, just like Proposition 22 was in California,” says Brice Sopher, an UberEats courier and Gig Workers United member.

'The fight is here'

Workers gathered outside Uber’s headquarters on Bloor Street in Toronto on March 10 to protest the new move. The union sees Uber’s new proposal as strengthening the gig work model, while deflecting criticism for their increasingly exploitative practices during the pandemic.

The Instagram post calling workers to rally at Uber’s Toronto headquarters read: “Today Uber began an all out attack on Canadian labour. We cannot let them fool our governments to pass a Canadian Prop 22. The fight is here and the fight is now!”

“The job gets shittier and shittier”

In recent months, Uber workers have suffered deep pay cuts.

“Uber sees the writing on the wall,” says Chris, a courier and union member. ... Uber knows that couriers will only get more and more organized as the job gets shittier and shittier.”

Chris says Uber’s move is to “prevent worker power” by introducing “some small improvements while taking away our rights at the same time.”

The company has long relied on “flexibility” as its selling point, and as an argument against improving labour conditions. Organizations like Gig Workers United accuse the company of setting up a false choice between flexibility and security.

“Workers should not be forced to choose between flexible working hours and decent working conditions,” says Gig Workers United.

Uber out to have their cake and eat it too

“Canadians should not be fooled,” says Joshua Mandryk, a labour lawyer at Goldblatt Partners in Toronto

“Uber has framed this proposal as a magnanimous bestowing of benefits when it really appears to be about carving their drivers out of basic employment standards protections like the minimum wage.”

Samara Belitzky, a lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said that if Uber workers were considered employees it would have to offer minimum wage, vacation pay and protected, parental and medical leave. Workers would be able to access compensation in the event of workplace injuries and would get unemployment benefits, she added.

“Uber realizes that the way … they’re misclassifying drivers as contractors when they’re really employees is not necessarily working out, and so they are now spending the time to get the government involved to change the law so that they can kind of have their cake and eat it too,” says Samara Belitzky, a lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP. Belitzky’s  firm is currently pursuing a class-action lawsuit against Uber.

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