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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 unionist."

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."