Workers Experience with Existing Labour Law
One of the significant matters facing workers is how the existing labour laws prevent them from organizing and asserting their rights and speaking for themselves. Current efforts to organize drivers for Uber and Amazon in Canada reveal a lot about what is taking place and how the existing labour laws operate to serve the most powerful employers and their private interests in opposition to the rights and claims of the workers and the society in general. These experiences re-affirm the fact that workers must organize to speak for themselves on their own terms and according to their own demands in their workplaces and in politics.
Experience of Uber Drivers in Ontario
Uber reached an informal agreement with a union to prohibit its limousine drivers from pursuing their efforts to form their own union of Uber employees. Uber then used the agreement to block another organization called Gig Workers United, supported by CUPW, from establishing a broad union of Uber drivers and fighting for their demands.
In response to Uber’s informal agreement with the other union, CUPW has put a complaint before the Ontario Labour Relations Board which raises three main questions: (1) is Uber an employer of Uber drivers; (2) did the secretly negotiated deal with the other union amount to interference with the formation and selection of a union by Uber drivers given that both the other union and CUPW were actively organizing drivers at the time the other union was given special access to the drivers; and (3) does the deal amount to Uber providing the other union with financial or other support contrary to section 70 of Ontario labour law?
It can be seen in this case that the issues being discussed obscure the fight for Uber workers’ rights, claims and demands in their relations as workers who sell their capacity to work to their employer. In this case, labour law forces workers first to defend themselves against the absurd notion that they are not employees of Uber. This preoccupation supplants the important work of building public opinion amongst themselves and others regarding the necessity to organize to defend their just claims and demands as employees of Uber and how this fight should proceed. Labour law hinders Uber workers from organizing on their own behalf independently of the state and company. Labour law splits the workers as to which union they support and also sets an agenda as to what should and can be decided and what methods are used.
Labour law acts in similar ways to the outmoded liberal democratic institutions of party governance where the governing party and official opposition and media set the agenda during elections and the various cartel parties split the people into opposing factions instead of uniting them to solve problems and develop their relations amongst themselves and with nature.
Experience of Amazon Drivers in Alberta
Over forty per cent of the 160 “sub-contracted” Amazon drivers in Leduc Alberta signed cards to join a union and put their bid to the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) as per labour law. Their application did not even reach the level of a formal hearing as the ALRB dismissed it out of hand “due to lack of evidence they work for Amazon,” according to union organizers.
Teamsters’ organizer Stacy Tulp says, “I made the application (to the ALRB) as Amazon employees of Amazon Canada. They kicked it out and said you have no evidence that they are Amazon employees.”
Tulp says every signed card was from a driver who Amazon says is not employed by it but rather is employed by a third party Amazon subcontractor called a Delivery Service Partner (DSP).
“The drivers are all under a third party subcontractor. Amazon supplies everything. Amazon supplies the vans, Amazon even supplies vests. Their only employer is Amazon. So their subcontractor is more of a payroll administrator,” Tulp explains.
A DSP is similar to an accounting department within a company in charge of revenue and payroll. Amazon DS Partners act as regional third party subcontractors and appear on paper as a driver’s employer on behalf of Amazon. Amazon drivers attempting to organize into unions across North America have had their efforts blocked with this deceptive practice. According to Amazon, each DSP can employ 40-100 people and be started with as little as $15,000. Multiple teams of DSP drivers work out of a single Amazon warehouse.
Tulp says this deception obscures the issues the drivers want settled including high quotas and heavy workloads. He explains: “Let’s say you have to deliver these 160 packages in a 10 hour timeline. You don’t deliver those packages in that timeline, you are disciplined by your subcontractor and the subcontractor is disciplined by Amazon. But if you were able to do about 160 packages, next week, you get 180 packages.”
Through their own efforts and struggles to organize and defend their rights, claims and demands for working conditions suitable to themselves, workers are exposing the fraud of labour law as a state dictate of the most powerful employers serving their narrow private interests.