By Doug Nesbitt
With files from Dan Darrah
In a new press release, Uber has proposed new changes to “reinvent independent work” in Canada. Called “Flexible Work+,” 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.” Workers gathered Wednesday outside Uber’s headquarters on Bloor Street in Toronto to protest the new move. The workers are also protesting pay cuts and unfair deactivations.
The union sees Uber’s new proposal as strengthening the gig work model, while deflecting criticism for their increasingly exploitative practices during the pandemic. In recent months, Uber workers have had pay was slashed dramatically.
“The job gets shittier and shittier”
“Uber sees the writing on the wall,” says Chris, a courier and union member. “They have been breaking the law for years and recently slashed wages for food couriers. The public is fed up, and 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 small benefits we gain will not make up for low wages, total precarity, random dismissals, and lack of dignity which they are now attempting to entrench.”
What is Prop 22? Uber writes California’s labour laws
“This is a trojan horse, just like Proposition 22 was in California,” says Brice, another courier and union member.
Proposition 22 was a recent ballot initiative in California. It was promoted by Uber, Lyft, and other app-based “gig” employers. It re-established their workforce as “independent contractors,” not “employees.” This means exempting gig workers from protections like paid sick time, overtime, and unemployment insurance. Prop 22 instead offered some patchy benefits.
The Prop 22 initiative was strongly opposed by labour groups and advocates, but California voters supported it following a record-breaking ad campaign by the corporations. Many voters now feel they were confused by the wording of the proposal, and bamboozled by the corporations.
Rebranding Prop 22 for Canada
Uber’s new proposal for Canada explicitly references Proposition 22.
“The first step towards improving independent work has already started,” the press release reads. “California decisively voted to give drivers and delivery people what they wanted.”
Chris notes “Flexible Work+” may be “an attempt to rebrand” the Proposition 22 model.
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 do NOT need to choose between flexible working hours and decent working conditions,” say Gig Workers United.
The fight is here
Uber’s proposal also comes on the heels of a so-called “survey” sent out to workers in the fall of 2020. The survey was distributed before the company cut pay during the pandemic. Workers have argued that it was a strategic move by the company to get input when wages were better, and publishing the survey after things got worse.
“They’re using old information and processing it in a way to justify that they know best. But workers know best.”
“Today Uber began an all out attack on Canadian labour,” reads the Instagram caption of the poster for Wednesday’s protest. “We cannot let them fool our governments to pass a Canadian Prop 22. The fight is here and the fight is now!”