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Bike couriers want to unionize

No set working conditions, no seniority. If they succeed, grungy cyclists will be part of same local as uniformed Canada Post carriers

Montreal Gazette, April 02, 2004

By Mike King and Nicolas Van Praet

Montreal's daredevil bike couriers and independent messengers are trying to unionize in a campaign that threatens to change forever the local rush delivery business.

If they succeed, grungy bicycle couriers and uniformed Canada Post carriers will be part of the same union.

More than 175 messengers who use bikes or their own motorized vehicles to make deliveries have signed accreditation cards to join the Montreal local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, one of the country's most powerful labour groups.

The biker couriers say they decided unionization was the best way to negotiate contracts.

Most messengers in Montreal have no set working conditions and no seniority. They're paid by commission rather than salary.

"For couriers, what's in it for them is maybe a chance to be able to afford a vacation and have at least minimal accident protection," said Tom Ostreiko, a spokesperson for the Montreal Bike Messengers Association.

Unionizing could lead to better pricing, and improved conditions for the rush delivery industry overall, Ostreiko said.

Some 350 rush delivery companies battle each other in Quebec for what is often little gain. It's not uncommon for a client to pay $2 or $3 for a delivery downtown Montreal.

To make more money, bike couriers often run red lights, cut corners and cycle faster to make deliveries. Some have died on the job as a result. Many quit just weeks after starting.

Ostreiko said unionization will result in better training and a more stable pool of messengers.

But others counter that unionization will mean complete upheaval for the sector, with the smallest companies being wiped out by higher worker costs and the big players surviving.

One of the biggest players is Intelcom Courier, a rush delivery firm 50-per cent-owned by Canada Post.

André Frappier, CUPW national director for the Montreal region, said the couriers approached the Quebec Federation of Labour last fall about becoming unionized. The QFL referred them to the postal union.

He and Sylvain Lapointe, president of the 6,000-member Montreal CUPW local, launched a recruiting campaign in January by targeting five of the biggest courier companies on the island: CourrierCom, Courrier Rapide, Messagex, Sylco and QA/Transor. Other companies are also in the process of being targeted.

"It's a very volatile sector, with workers coming and going," Frappier said. "It was difficult to get (employee) lists and to penetrate."

Frappier said employers are contesting the accreditations.

More on Montreal's labour fight here and here


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