City's messengers file lawsuit against employers

Unfair business practices by three companies alleged

A group of bicycle and car messengers on Thursday announced a $1 million unfair-busines-practices lawsuit against three major companis in San Francisco and also announced its intent to unionize all messengers.

About 25 messengers and couriers, joined by representatives from several unions, gathered on the east steps of City Hall, claiming that courier companies do not pay "living wages" and alleging violations of labor laws.

Marc Gunther, a courier driver for Dispatch Management Services, one of the defendants in the lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court, said gas prices had skyrocketed recently, but he had received no compensation, even though he buys his own gas.

"We are your children, and we're being exploited," Gunther told members of the press who gathered for the morning news conference.

The lawsuit brought by 75 messengers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union also names Professional Messenger and UltraEx Inc.

Labor violations alleged in the lawsuit include deliberate miscalculation of overtime, failure to pay mileage and compensation for losses on the job, and charging employees for use of equipment used at work.

ILWU spokeswoman Marcy Rein said DMS and UltraEx messengers have asked the union for recognition, but a date for votes on union representation have not been set.

Clive Lightwood, a 33-year-old bike messenger with Aero, a DMS company, said the main reason he signed onto the lawsuit against his employer was that the 50 percent commission per delivery he was promised in writing when hired has been steadily reduced to about 20 percent. He said the only way to get a raise is to do more work.

"I don't feel that doing a day and a half's work in a day in a pay raise." Lightwood said.

He said he and his fellow messengers had been talking privately with DMS, UltraEx and Professional Messenger for about seven months to resolve their concerns.

Fred Ross Jr., chief of staff for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said Pelosi supports messenger unionization.

San Francisco Supervisor Sue Bierman also put her support behind the unionization effort.

"City Hall doesn't like to see people mistreated," she said.

Following the news conference, messengers and ILWU representatives went to meet with city purchasing officials to press for the award of city contracts to companies with unionized messengers.

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