Activists and action at bike courier meet
by Nate Hendley
Eye Weekly, June 10, 1999
Toronto hosted the second annual North American Cycle Courier
Championships last weekend, an event that drew hundreds of couriers,
the postal workers' union and at least one "old-style 1930s trade
The old-style activist was Joel Metz, a ponytailed courier from San
Francisco, in Toronto to help spread the union faith. A board member of
the San Francisco Bike Messenger Association, Metz talked labor issues
while couriers tore through a College Park race course.
On June 1, members of the Ultra Ex courier company in S.F. voted to be
represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, says
Metz. The vote -- which ironically landed in the middle of Toronto's
Bike Week -- makes Ultra Ex one of the first unionized messenger
businesses on the continent.
"There's a general feeling bike messengers are not well-paid for doing
very dangerous work," said Metz. "The fact we love it is no reason to
be ripped off."
The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition would agree. A bike
messenger association, the Coalition handed out booklets describing
basic labor rights most local messengers don't enjoy -- such as a
minimum wage, vacation pay and worker's compensation.
The Courier Coalition has an loose alliance with the Canadian Union of
Postal Employees, who want to bring megacity messengers into the postie
fold. CUPW helped sponsor the cycling championships and operated a
booth during Saturday's races.
Metz wants to "change the impression of couriers" from that of
"reckless hoodlums" to "tradespeople" -- a campaign that might prove
more difficult than a union drive.
On Sunday, for example, New York City courier and labor activist
Rebecca Reilly doffed her top during a cycling contest and finished the
event bare-breasted. After accepting cheers from her courier comrades,
Reilly spoke articulately about the need for messengers to agitate for
better working conditions.
"We ride more than Olympians," she said. "But Olympians get the red
carpet and we get kicked in the teeth."