The union is the message: messenger work and messenger organizing in the same-day courier sector
Lavin, David Oliver
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Work in the same-day courier sector is a precarious form of employment. Workers in this sector are also treated as self-employed and hired as independent contractors. The relationship with the firm for which they work, however, is hardly distinguishable from an employment relationship. Messengers are among a growing number of workers in Canada who can be labeled as disguised employees. To explore the phenomenon of disguised employment, I use a case study approach informed by critical political economic theory and a purposive approach to labour and employment law to examine work in the same-day courier sector in Toronto with a focus on a subpopulation of workers in this sector: bike messengers. I examine the causes and consequences of self-employment in the same-day courier sector, analyze messengers' work and argue that their employment status entails misclassification. In an increasingly market-mediated society we are witnessing a proliferation of unprotected work relationships with disguised employment being one manifestation of this development. Fortunately, some unions are trying to organize workers in disguised employment relationships. In this dissertation, I also examine an attempt by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to organize workers in Toronto's same-day courier sector. I explore the processes and implications of organizing disguised employees and examine how organizing these workers relates to and can inform the project of union renewal in Canada. Gaining employee status, however, is no guarantee of successful organizing. The same-day courier sector is highly competitive and is dominated by small, decentralized employers. Organizing in such a sector is a formidable task. Under the collective bargaining regime, unions have to organize workers workplace by workplace. However, this is proving to be ineffective in highly competitive sectors dominated by small employers, and organizing efforts will likely only result in limited success. As I argue, unions can develop innovative strategies and tactics to organize workers. However, with the many structural obstacles unions face, these strategies and tactics can often fall short of their goals. To facilitate unionization in the same-day courier sector, the collective bargaining regime needs to be overhauled to mandate, or at least promote, multi-employer bargaining.