Unionization drive targets Foodora’s Montreal operations

A Foodora bike courier in Berlin. (Photo by Thielker/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Foodora’s Montreal operations are the target of a unionization campaign, The Logic has learned. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which led the only successful effort to unionize fast food workers in North America, has set its sights on Foodora’s Montreal operations. A Montreal IWW representative has promised “direct action” against the German company if it doesn’t address worker demands.

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Talking Points

A unionization drive is underway among the Montreal Foodora couriers, The Logic has learned. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which led a recent successful campaign with fast-food workers in the U.S., has been recruiting members from the city’s myriad couriers working with Foodora—and has promised “direct action” should the company not engage with it. It is the second time the company has faced a unionization drive in Canada. Foodora couriers in Toronto are before the Ontario Labour Relations Board as part of their effort to become certified.

So far, the “Wobblies,” as IWW members are known, have signed up roughly 20 cyclists who work as Foodora couriers in the city. Though a relatively modest number amidst the German company’s hundreds of Montreal couriers, the IWW is championing issues that have spurred unionization drives by so-called “gig workers” across North America.

And while some workers—such as the group of Foodora couriers currently attempting to unionize in Toronto—have aimed their ire and efforts at individual companies, the IWW wants to unionize the entire food-delivery sector.

“Right now, a lot of people are pro-union at Foodora, but we’re aiming at the whole industry,” said Philippe, a Foodora courier who is leading the IWW’s unionization drive. (Because he fears repercussion from the company, The Logic has agreed not to publish his real name.)

As with the company’s Toronto deliverers, whose case is currently before the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB), the IWW’s main bone of contention is their classification as “independent contractors,” not employees. As independent contractors, union reps say workers aren’t entitled to employment insurance or minimum wage. 

“We are aware of organization discussions,” said Foodora spokesperson Sadie Weinstein, adding that the “independent contractor” designation “provides more flexibility” for riders. The company wouldn’t say exactly how many couriers work in Montreal, though over 3,000 deliver for it across Canada, according to Weinstein.

In 2019, the Wobblies successfully unionized workers at five locations of Burgerville, a fast-food chain based in the Pacific Northwest. Those employees, who make up roughly 12 per cent of the Burgerville’s workforce, held a four-day strike in October 2019 that ended when Burgerville promised to negotiate wage increases. The company raised hourly wages by $1 for all its restaurant staff last December. 

Quebec has long been fertile territory for unions. Its workforce has the highest rate of unionization in the U.S. and Canada, with over 1.4 million card-carrying members in the province. It is easier to join a union in Quebec than elsewhere in North America, said Diane Gagné, a professor of industrial relations at the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières. “In Quebec, employees need only to sign union cards. In places like Ontario, it’s done by secret ballot, which is harder to organize and easier for employees to interfere in the process,” she said.

Some Quebec employers have simply closed in the face of successful unionization campaigns. In 2005, the Walmart in Jonquière, about 173 kilometres north of Quebec City, ceased operations six months after the majority of its 190 employees voted in favour of unionization. 

Foodora said it wouldn’t go that route should couriers working with the company vote to unionize. “We look forward to continuing to serve our fast-growing customer, restaurant and rider base in Montreal,” Weinstein said.

The IWW recruitment drive within Foodora began in earnest three years ago, when Philippe first began working for the company. He handed out fliers to fellow cyclists during his off-hours and had Foodora orders delivered to his residence—if only to bend the courier’s ear upon arrival. Foodora’s recent social event for workers at a bowling alley during the Christmas break was particularly fruitful. “The company paid for the beers; I handed out fliers,” Philippe said. 

The union is also targeting couriers for other app-based delivery services like Uber Eats and SkipTheDishes. “It’s an ongoing campaign within all companies, because Foodora’s problems are industry problems,” Philippe said, adding that many existing IWW-affiliated couriers already work for other services.

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The IWW organizes by industry, so our model of unionism means that we try to find industries where we can effectively organize workers and create campaigns that can engage workers across that entire industry,” said IWW spokesperson Brendan Muckian-Bates. 

The union wants to get a critical mass of members of about 60 per cent of Foodora’s workforce so that it may begin “negotiating collectively” without first becoming certified, according to Philippe. The IWW, which is regarded as more militant and member-focused than other unions, will also engage in what Philippe called “good, old fashioned direct action,” including work slowdowns and strikes, should the company fail to negotiate.

Unlike Toronto’s Foodora couriers, whose campaign is being led by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the IWW doesn’t necessarily want to certify. The certification process, Philippe said, is too costly and drawn out. Foodora’s Toronto workers began their campaign in late 2018. The OLRB heard closing arguments from both sides on January 29. “I’m proud of what’s going on in Toronto, but you don’t have to go through those channels to get gains,” he said. 

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