Skip the food delivery apps

The union-busting operations of Uber Eats and other apps shouldn’t be ignored

Support the food, not the delivery corporations. PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

UPDATED 11/2/2021 to reflect the BC Federation of Labour’s stance on the provincial government’s fee cap.

by Emma Jean, Staff Writer

Delivery apps: they’re great, right? They provide meals from a number of local restaurants, the food is already prepared, and they provide deals not available with normal takeout orders. That’s what the advertisements for apps like Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats, and DoorDash say, anyway. What they don’t talk about is how they classify their workers as contractors instead of employees, so they don’t have to provide them with any benefits. When the struggles of a pandemic are layered on top of that, what’s left is workers with COVID-19 exposure risk and little means of protection against it. To actually support food industry workers, we should avoid these apps.

The struggle of delivery drivers hasn’t gone completely unrecognized. This past December, the provincial government set a cap on delivery order fees at 15% at the request of the restaurant industry itself. The aspects of the legislation that protect “workers’ wages and tips” were praised by the BC Federation of Labour and recognizes “the critical role delivery workers have played during this pandemic.” However, these regulations are the most protection delivery workers have ever seen, with the apps themselves — worth collectively billions of dollars — refusing to give them any proper benefits. Most of these apps pay their workers based on the individual deliveries they complete and not an hourly rate, and that’s all that workers can expect from them. 

Research and action based on this new gig economy — filled with independent contractors jumping from job to job — is only emerging, but it’s needed as labour laws surrounding this concept are almost non-existent. Plenty of food delivery workers in the United States have taken this kind of action by expressing interest in unionization, much to the chagrin of the apps. A statewide referendum (Proposition 22) was even held in California that proposed to mandate Uber, Lyft, and Doordash to recognize their workers as employees. Had the companies not thrown around millions of dollars to defeat the initiative, millions of workers would have gained healthcare and the right to unionize. While similar legislation is yet to take place in BC, growing research is keen to call for it. 

A report by researchers with SFU’s School of Communication found that, in BC, food delivery workers are “particularly vulnerable to exploitative working conditions,” and even more so with the onset of COVID-19.

It’s not all hopeless, though. Drivers for Uber in Toronto have organized and have fought against their employer’s disputes with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The same board also ruled that the now-defunct delivery app Foodora’s workers should be recognized as employees. This sets the legal groundwork for potential organization across the gig economy field and could give unions a leg up against their employers — something that needs to happen soon if their livelihoods are to be protected. 

But what can the average consumer do about this problem? For starters, ordering food doesn’t have to be through an app. Most local restaurants will offer delivery for a comparable cost just by calling them, and the same rush of not having to cook and clean is the same. To take things a step further, advocating for revised labour laws that protect gig economy workers and allow them to unionize is crucial. By recognizing gig workers as employees rather than contractors, that process can begin.