|Bike couriers want
a better ride (April 3, 2004)
In the article below courier companies make it sound like the Canadian
rush courier industry's finances won't allow them to do anything to improve
conditions for workers but according to Statistics Canada they are doing
quite well. In fact Statistics Canada reports that "the courier and local
messenger industry is an important, growing contributor to the economy."
While messengers' incomes and delivery prices have declined over the years,
the companies have significantly increased their operating margins. Using
the most recent data (2001) from Statistics Canada, the same-day couriers'
operating margins have increased a whopping 32% between 1998-2001.
So delivery rates declined but operating profits increased. How is this
possible? It's simple. Volumes increased and more costs were shifted to the
workers. Messengers worked much harder for the same or less money while companies
benefited from their continued exploitation.
Transportation researcher Gary Breininger describes the rush courier industry
as, "pretty much as close as you can get to a purely competitive economic
structure." That's because other industries are held to employment standards
and the Canadian Labour Code. The courier industry is distinguished by disguised
employment, which means employers call employees independent contractors
and ignore labour standards to which other industries are forced to adhere.
Disguised employment allows companies to push their costs and risks onto
their workers resulting in illegal "prices as low as $2 per delivery." For
years messengers across Canada have battled to have the minimum allowable
charges under the Canada Post Act enforced. At present the minimum amount
a courier can charge is $2.40 per package.
If companies were so concerned about standards "applied formally and evenly
for all companies" they could have joined messengers in this battle. Companies
say they see the need for "commission improvements for bikers, whom they
admit work in difficult conditions," yet despite years of opportunity the
opposite is industry practice.
Most messengers receive no vacation pay and they are not paid for statutory
holidays. Messengers do not receive overtime pay and they are routinely
dismissed without notice. It's not surprising that messengers are not worried
that a union might "sour relations between companies and the couriers."
It's possible a union may bring the courier industry from the nineteenth
century into the twenty first century. CUPW helped couriers in Winnipeg
win a case in Federal Court that allows them to sue for vacation pay and
holiday pay from their employer and recognized their status as employees
rather than independent contractors under Part III of the Canada Labour Code.
On March 4, 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Dynamex Canada's
appeal of the case (Dynamex Canada Inc. v. Mamona). Without help from the
union, it's unlikely the individual messengers would have had the finances
to defend their rights all the way to the Supreme Court.
Messengers have tried everything else to persuade companies to treat them
fairly. Why not give a union a chance?
Bike couriers want a better ride
Union would change dynamics of industry.Higher costs could kill smaller
firms. Involvement of postal workers' union might sour employee-company relations
By Nicolas Van Praet
Montreal Gazette, April 3, 2004
Some bike couriers in Montreal want to join the Canadian Union of Postal
Workers. Will rebel-image bike couriers wear blue uniforms like posties? That's
But Montreal rush-delivery company managers are bracing for profound changes
to their business after couriers and independent messengers signalled this
week they want to join the Montreal local of the Canadian Union of Postal
Workers, one of Canada's most powerful labour groups.
About 175 messengers who use their own bicycles, cars, vans or trucks to
make same-day deliveries have signed accreditation cards for membership.
Joining any union would alter the dynamics of the entire local rush-courier
industry because it would almost certainly drive up costs for some companies,
experts say. Those costs will either be passed on to consumers, or absorbed
by the firms themselves. That could kill off some companies.
"Guys like this, like a union, can absolutely crush my business," said Peter
Hansen, a manager at QA Courier, a Montreal rush-delivery company that employs
as many as 45 independent delivery contractors.
"What allows us to survive against the big companies is that we are not
Some businesses will have to close, said Jean-FranÃ§ois Sauriol,
president of Messagex, one of five courier companies targeted by union organizers.
"Companies that are the least well-organized and that work least well with
the messengers will not be able to adapt to these changes."
The involvement of the postal workers' union could alter the game further.
Some messenger-company managers charge that the public-sector union has always
fought against private courier companies because it perceives them as a threat.
Managers hinted that if the couriers join the union, it could sour relations
between companies and the couriers.
Bike messengers say unionizing would give them more money, better training,
and adequate accident protection. Courier drivers also stand to make similar
Sauriol and other company managers say they're not against those goals,
especially commission improvements for bikers, whom they admit work in difficult
conditions. But they say they want it to be applied formally and evenly for
all companies, not just the five firms targeted by union organizers.
Canada's rush-delivery business is, as transportation researcher Gary Breininger
describes it, "pretty much as close as you can get to a purely competitive
About 15,000 independent operators working for 2,000 companies duke it out
for $700 million worth of business annually at prices as low as $2 per delivery.
In Montreal, about 200 firms compete. Some are tiny outfits employing four
or five people.
Experts say prices have not changed much over the years. Profits are lousy,
at about eight per cent pre-tax, for the sector in general, according to Statistics
Independent workers make $50,000 a year at the high end, Breininger said.
"One of the reasons why I believe the (sector) is not highly unionized is
that, I hate to say it, there's not a lot of money there for a union," Breininger
"(They) don't make a lot of money to afford dues and things like that."
Unionization in the courier industry is not unheard of, however. In fact,
messengers with Canada's largest rush-delivery company, U.S.-based Dynamex,
belong to the Teamsters union.
A union presence doesn't automatically spell disaster, said Jim Aitken,
Canadian director for Dynamex. "It's how the company reacts to it."
But to many courier-company managers, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers
is no ordinary union.
More on Montreal's labour fight here