CUPW is driving their employers right out of Canada

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If you’re currently focused on the pandemic and getting the economy going again, you’ll be happy to know others have different priorities.  For instance the Canadian Union of Postal Employees, which wants to unionize food delivery people even if it costs them their jobs.  Is now really the time?

Actually it’s not obvious that pricing someone out of the job market is ever a good idea.  Except if your cynical motive is reducing the competition faced by privileged people who already have well-paid, secure employment.  For instance postal workers.

It’s also not obvious why food delivery would be the focus of the Post Office union even if we stretch a point and call those who deliver food “couriers”.  Is the pizza dude a “courier”?  CUPW thinks so, capitalizes it, and wants him paid government union wages.  The revolution marches on.

Or does it?  On April 28 an angry press release from the union informed me that “CUPW and the Foodsters are shocked to hear about Foodora’s decision to leave the Canadian market.  The two-weeks’ notice that has been provided is grossly unfair and unreasonable.  We call on Foodora and the Federal Government to ensure that workers and food couriers be protected.”

I can see how we might protect them from CUPW driving their employers right out of the country.  But how can we protect them from the consequences of letting it do so?

If this one had been bicycling under your radar, I’m with you.  I’m still not sure who “the Foodsters” even are.  A subsequent press release suggested that, without the capital letter, it’s a slang term the delivery persons and their former contractor/employer used for all the former.  But with the capital F I rather suspect it’s a union front group not a grassroots movement.

Either way, here’s the deal.  In late February, the Ontario Labour Relations Board “delivered a landmark decision siding with CUPW’s arguments that Foodora Couriers are dependent contractors (a classification closer to ‘employee’) of Foodora and not independent contractors.”  Last fall Foodora’s drivers and riders had voted on unionization.  But the ballots were sealed when the company challenging the whole proceeding on the grounds that the “foodsters” were independent contractors not employee-like “dependent contractors”.

In February the OLRB said otherwise and everybody was happy.  Except the “employees”, their “employers” and the customers as the firm shut down its Canadian operations.

OK, the union wasn’t happy either.  But apart from that, win-win.

Interestingly, the CBC noted that the decision came at a time of surging demand for Foodora and other such firms due to the lockdown.  Which might also be described as a time of surging demand for workers in this industry at a time of mass unemployment.  As the CBC observed, “it’s not just food, either — the company recently started offering deliveries of products as diverse as flowers, pet food, alcohol and coffee on its service.”

Well, not any more.  CUPW put a stop to all that nonsense.  Everybody lost their job.  Hooray.

The tone of the April 28 press release is especially striking.  It amounts to picketing outside a closed factory demanding… what?  And from whom?  CUPW National President (how many Presidents have they got?) Jan Simpson snarled “Foodora and Delivery Hero must be held accountable to the workers – couriers have made millions for this company and deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness.”  But what can this rant even mean?

Is the idea that they will be legally forced to resume operations under conditions they cannot control?  If so who will dictate who they hire and at what rate?  Who will set their prices?  And who will cover their losses?

Foodora and its parent firm Delivery Hero are based in that hotbed of worker exploitation called Germany.  And they claim they pulled out of Canada because they’re losing money.  But CUPW wasn’t having any of that bourgeois capitalist nonsense.

On April 29 it filed a fresh complaint of unfair labour practices with the OLRB.  Apparently shutting down before you lose all your money isn’t allowed in what Terence Corcoran called “Unionland: Canada’s scariest theme park” (or words to that effect) so long ago it’s not on the Internet.

Speaking of long ago, this whole concept of public sector unions bringing the efficiency and customer service focus of government to the small business sector is surely a bit long in the tooth itself.  And not working very well; evidently almost all of CUPW’s 54,000 members work for Canada Post, such a vibrant cutting-edge incarnation of the new digital economy that, as a mere consumer, you can’t order stamps online and have them delivered… by Canada Post.

No really.  You can’t.  Whereas Amazon will sell you almost anything from a bicycle to mustard to a plague mask so scary no one will come within six feet of you even to arrest you.  But with a handful of “cleaners, couriers, drivers, vehicle mechanics, warehouse workers, mail house workers, emergency medical dispatchers, bicycle couriers and other workers in more than 15 private sector bargaining units” CUPW dreams of bringing the entire proletariat under its wing.  It’s 1938 out there, man!

This episode underlines the perilous gap between the public and private sectors in Canada, including the unfunded gold-plated pensions on which those in the former retire early and in comfort at the expense of chumps who retire later and poorer, or never.  Hence the Feb. 27 CUPW press release gloating about the OLRB ruling was signed by their “3rd National Vice-President” working from their fancy HQ on prime downtown Ottawa real estate.  But I digress.

Or maybe not.  Because the chasm between the public sector elite and the private sector proles is widening with the pandemic quarantine.  Those bureaucrats and even most politicians making decisions that drive private firms into bankruptcy and leave their former employees scrambling to pay the rent aren’t seeing any of their friends even taking a pay cut.  And it won’t get easier when governments that blithely borrowed amounts they could not service try to raise taxes on closed firms.

We’d all love to have jobs like public school teachers, collecting $90,000 a year until you retire in your late fifties with a $55,000 pension for life feeling badly done to.  But we can’t.  I’m not even sure teachers can going forward.  And it’s going to be a lot harder if quasi-governmental bodies like the OLRB team up with public sector unions to drive private enterprise out of the country then stand slack-jawed demanding to know where the real work went.

It’s not just destructive.  It’s demented.

Especially now.

More from John Robson.    Follow John on Twitter at @thejohnrobson

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