Seven reasons why Foodora couriers are trying to unionize

CUPW is helping Foodora workers to organize a union. Photo: Jared Ong

Foodora workers across Ontario are protesting precarious work and attempting to unionize with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). The couriers of the app-based food delivery company are demanding fair compensation, better health and safety, and respect.

Like other companies that profit off the gig economy, Foodora classifies its workers as independent contractors. CUPW is challenging that assertion through the labour relations board.

rabble.ca spoke to some of the Foodora workers in Toronto to understand the challenges that have compelled them to fight back.

1. The compensation model is inadequate

Foodora workers get paid $4.50 for every order, which roughly corresponds to the $3.99 delivery fee levied on customers. Beyond that, they make $1 for every kilometre plus tips.

However, they don't get paid for the journey to the restaurant as the mileage only comes into play from the pick-up location to the point of delivery. Essentially, couriers end up clocking a lot of uncompensated miles on the job.

Moreover, Foodora hasn't increased its base rate in three years, leaving workers behind inflation. The pay-per-delivery model also puts more pressure on couriers to deliver faster during peak times and jeopardize their own safety.

"Inflation has gone up in three years, and I haven't had a wage increase. Cost of living has gone up in three years, and I haven't had a wage increase," says Ivan Ostos, a long-time Foodora courier.

Hunter Sanassian, a courier who has worked for multiple food delivery services for three years, laments that Foodora puts the onus on customers to subsidize workers' wages.

But customers are not eager to pay tips in addition to the $3.99 delivery charge, except in the cases of large orders. And even then, a tip is never guaranteed.

"The company dumps it on the customer to make my paycheque more than minimum wage," says Hunter Sanassian, a Foodora courier. "The company should take more initiative to find a way of rewarding us."

2. Couriers get unreasonably punished

Since couriers don't get paid to ride to the restaurant, they are not keen to accept orders that require travelling long distances without compensation.

But rejecting an order leads to a five-minute penalty, whereby they are unable to access the system. Rejecting too many orders means couriers are downgraded by the app's algorithm, and can end up losing shifts.

"It's frustrating when you have to say 'no,' because you actually want to keep working [and earning money]," Sanassian says.

This problem is compounded when the same rejected orders pop up again on the app.

Although such situations speak to the faulty compensation model, it also brings up another major problem -- Foodora does not listen to its workers.

Sanassian says the decision to say 'no' is often based on couriers' assessment of the difficulty of the route, traffic and weather conditions at that particular time, which are based on their experience of cycling in the city.

3. Bad weather conditions lead to more work

Like other food delivery couriers, Foodora workers are busiest during bad weather. Snowstorms, freezing rain and thunderstorms escalate demand as people seek comfort indoors.

"It is appalling in terms of the expectations," says Sanassian. "When everyone gets on their phone some kind of weather alert that says, 'Wind warning, it's super dangerous out there,' we get an emergency message from the app saying, 'Workers Needed.'"

Even if conditions worsen during the course of a day, workers are pressured to complete their shifts even when they don't feel safe, says Sanassian.

4. Safety is a huge concern

Cycling in Toronto can be hazardous on the best of days. Aggressive car drivers, potholes in bike lanes, streetcar tracks and the nasty threat of being doored at any given moment are constant threats for any cyclist, let alone couriers coping with the pressures of delivering food quickly.

Couriers say accidents and near-misses are a daily part of the job. Sanassian refers to two people who were hospitalized this winter (neither of them were delivering for Foodora at the time of the incidents), and his own spate of relatively minor injuries such as sprains and road rashes.

But the companies don't take any responsibility in those cases, the workers say.

When Ostos contacted Foodora after fracturing his arm in the midst of delivery, the company was primarily concerned with completing the order.

"The company didn't give me any advice on what to do next. They asked me if I could finish the delivery. When I declined, they imposed that I should coordinate with another courier."

Safety is also compromised by the pressure to answer texts while on the job.

"Often they really want you to respond to those texts, and if you don't respond soon enough, you will get a message saying, 'Hey did you you get my text? Hey did you see that order?'" Ostos says.

5. The job is physically demanding

Riding a bike for hours at a time is physically daunting, and especially so for those who do it full-time. The lunch and dinner peak hours (11a.m.-2p.m., and 6-9p.m.) means couriers often work split shifts, and essentially stay out from morning to night.

"I'm drained when I come back home. I'm physically exhausted, I'm hungry, and I'm doing this [day in day out]," Sanassian says.

The weight of large orders places additional stress on the couriers who lug around large quantities of food on their back. Sanassian says he has seen people suffering from bad backs and other physical problems that build up over time.

Workers want health benefits such as physiotherapy and massages alongside along paid vacation and sick days to allow for rest and recovery.

"We are not asking for a lot. I think it's fair to say, if I'm working in a snowstorm, then I am going to at least be making some money," says Ostos, whose fractured arm left him unable to work for four months.

"Or if I'm working in a snowstorm and I slip, and break my arm, there is going to be more adequate coverage than what I got."

6. The hidden costs add up

Sanassian says he averages $600 a week based on a gruelling 30-hour schedule during peak season. While that may be considered fair, it doesn't account for costs of bike maintenance or safety equipment, nor the money spent on meals and snacks necessitated by physical exertion.

Sanassian says he can't always budget for the cost of food. He estimates that his annual bike maintenance costs hover around $3,000.

Couriers driving cars or riding motorcycles have to shell money out for gas and insurance.

A statement on the Foodsters United website, says, "Foodora could provide extended health benefits, more safety equipment, and amenities. An employer should invest in the total well-being of its employees especially in such dangerous jobs."

7. Lack of respect

While Foodora has its workers on a strict leash in respect to scheduling and controlling their workflow, it refuses to be recognized as their employer and shirks its responsibility.

"I've never gotten a follow-up email to see how I'm doing [after I've been hit], and if anyone wanted to chat and find out how I'm doing and treat me like a human being," Sanassian says.

Because most of their interaction with Foodora is through the app, their workflow is dictated by algorithms. Although the company has an open-door policy, the couriers say staff merely listen to them with no discernible changes.

"These complaints are not new. We've been talking about this since day one," says Ostos in frustration.

"People have sent emails. We've had these conversations. And they will always say, 'That's a great idea. We'll pass it on [to higher management]. But fact of the matter is, nothing gets done. Nothing gets done from there."

Foodora's response

Foodora declined a request for an interview, and instead sent an emailed statement:

At foodora, we care about the well-being of our riders, which is why we offer an inclusive WSIB (or provincial equivalent) package and have an open-door policy at our office in Toronto, where our team and fleet supervisor are always there to assist the contractors where we can.  Internally, rider satisfaction is a top priority and we're proud that we've cultivated a tight-knight group of riders + that the average earnings across the country last month were a competitive rate of $21/ hr. We've been working on a project with our global team where we'll regularly collect feedback from new and existing riders across Canada, with the goal of maintaining a high level of satisfaction. The initiative is scheduled to roll out later this month.

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Photo: Jared Ong

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