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Last month, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers accused Uber of violating provincial labour laws for a January agreement it struck with the United Food and Commercial Workers union.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Uber Canada Inc. has asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to dismiss an unfair labour practice complaint made against it by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which centred around a deal that the rideshare giant struck with the United Food and Commercial Workers union earlier this year.

Uber’s petition for the complaint to be thrown out is the latest development in a convoluted saga about the employment status of Uber drivers and delivery couriers in Ontario, and the contrasting positions of two unions about whether gig workers should be considered employees instead of independent contractors.

Last month, the CUPW accused Uber of violating provincial labour laws for a January agreement it struck with the UFCW that essentially saw both parties enter into an exclusive deal with one another about the rights of Uber workers. The deal gave the UFCW the right to represent Uber’s 100,000-odd Canadian drivers and delivery couriers in job-related disputes, such as appeals of deactivations of their Uber accounts.

But the CUPW argued that the deal was struck “in secret and without worker input,” breaking labour laws that prohibit an employer from favouring one union over another.

In documents filed with the provincial labour relations board on Sept. 29, Uber’s lawyers said the complaint should be dismissed “for delay,” because CUPW took seven months to protest the UFCW-Uber agreement, even though it was aware of the agreement and released a statement about it.

Uber argues that the delay violates Rule 5 of the labour relations board’s “rules of procedure” which states that when a party intends to allege improper conduct against a person, he or she must do so “promptly” after finding out about the alleged improper conduct.

CUPW’s initial complaint alleges that Uber provided the UFCW with contact information of drivers and couriers on its platform so that the UFCW could communicate directly with workers. The CUPW said it did not receive that same treatment from Uber, and on Aug. 19, sent an e-mail to Uber asking for access to that contact information. Uber, according to the CUPW, did not comply with its request.

But in the Sept. 29 response to the CUPW, Uber refuted that allegation, saying it did not provide the UFCW with contact information of its drivers and delivery workers. The rideshare company continues to state that it has done nothing to violate labour laws.

Both the UFCW and the CUPW – through its affiliate union Gig Workers United – have been organizing with gig workers across the province for years but are now on opposing ends of the debate over whether gig workers should be employees.

While the UFCW-Uber deal gave workers some representation without having to pay union dues (administrative costs of representation are jointly covered by the UFCW and Uber), it did not fundamentally guarantee them employment status. In fact, hundreds of pages of e-mails and reports obtained by The Globe through freedom-of-information requests earlier this year showed that the UFCW even jointly pressed the Ontario government to exclude gig workers from being covered by the province’s Employment Standards Act.

Gig Workers United, on the other hand, has been campaigning for gig workers since 2018 to be officially classified as employees under the provincial Employment Standards Act. When the UFCW-Uber agreement was struck, CUPW and Gig Workers United released a statement saying that it came as a shock to the union, especially for Uber Eats delivery couriers who had signed cards with CUPW.

“Gig workers should define and decide what their union looks like and democratically elect their leaders – not the bosses,” CUPW said at the time.

The current status of gig workers in Ontario is disputed. Uber and other app-based companies consider their drivers and couriers independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to benefits like a minimum wage for all hours worked, paid sick days and employment insurance. But some labour law experts believe that gig workers meet the definition of an employee under Canadian labour law. A recent decision from the OLRB ruled that an Uber Eats bike courier, Saurabh Sharma, was an employee and awarded him $1,000 in unpaid wages and vacation pay.