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Tech by VICE

Gig Workers Are Forming the World’s First Food Delivery App Unions

In less than two weeks, Uber Eats and Foodora couriers in Japan and Norway have formed the first unions representing delivery app workers.

by Lauren Kaori Gurley
Oct 9 2019, 4:00pm

Image: Getty Images

There is a case to be made that workers on food delivery platforms have it the worst when it comes to precarious pay and dangerous working conditions in the gig economy. Apps including Uber Eats, Deliveroo, DoorDash, and Foodora are notorious for pocketing tips, refusing to compensate workers for injuries, and systematically refusing to recognize workers as employees as a way of circumventing the costs of benefits.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these workers have been busy organizing unions. And over the past two weeks, they have made history: Foodora delivery workers in Norway and Uber Eats couriers in Japan have succeeded in forming the first unions at major global food delivery platform companies—and with them, new rights and benefits on the job.

After a months-long campaign, Uber Eats couriers in Japan formed the global food delivery platform’s first union on October 3. The union aims to fight for “safer and more stable working conditions for all platform workers,” its chairman said at a press conference. There are an estimated 15,000 Uber Eats couriers across 10 cities in Japan—none of whom receive worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance because of their status as contractors. Uber said that it would implement an injury compensation program for its Japanese workers beginning on October 1. The company said it would pay up to $93,000 in the case of death. Uber Eats did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On September 27—after a five week strike in Norway—delivery couriers on the app Foodora, a food delivery platform that operates throughout Europe, Canada, and the Philippines, succeeded in reaching the first ever collective bargaining agreement between a global delivery platform and a trade union. That contract, which will benefit around 600 Foodora workers in Norway, guarantees compensation for equipment used on the job, including bikes, clothes, and smartphones (typically paid for out of pocket by workers), and an annual pay increase of around $1,647 for full time workers. Foodora did not respond to a request for comment.

Foodora couriers in Canada are also in the midst of a bitter battle with the company to unionize with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, as reported by VICE. They would be the first app workers to unionize in Canada. But the delivery platform insists that delivery workers cannot form a union because they are independent contractors and not employees.

The German-based company has earned a reputation for exploiting its workers worldwide, admitting to roughly $5 million wage theft when it ceased operations in Australia last August. With the help of the Transit Workers Union (TWU), the company agreed in May to pay workers a portion of the unpaid wages.

Over the past year, delivery app workers for Deliveroo, UberEats, Postmates, DoorDash, and Instacart, have also staged protests in San Francisco, California, France, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Mexico, and Ecuador.

To date, delivery app workers in the United States have not formed any unions—because they are barred by law from unionizing as independent contractors. But a new law in California, known as AB 5 will reclassify many gig workers in the state as employees, providing them a pathway to unionization. The law will also force the delivery app companies to compensate drivers in California 58 cents per mile for gasoline costs and for other expenses incurred on the job, and would force companies to end the practice of subtracting tips from workers’ base pay. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have pledged $30 to overturn the law, which goes into on January 1, 2020.