Ejaz Butt was a successful limo driver for many years before he joined Uber to drive Uber Black. Photo: supplied
“How do we survive? Uber has never given any support to the drivers,” Muhammad Ejaz Butt shouted into a CBC microphone during a September 28 protest of Uber Black and other drivers outside the Uber Canada head office, in Mississauga,
“You (Uber) must obey all by-laws. Otherwise, go back to your home, America.”
Taxi industry members who have spent years calling for essentially the same thing are stymied by the recent turn of events: “Maybe the Uber drivers should complain to the City of Toronto?” says Lawrence Eisenberg, a Taxi operator who has unsuccessfully sued Toronto for allowing Uber to operate by a separate set of rules.
While the September 28 demonstration was held in the Uber parking lot, steps away from the company office, no Uber Canada representatives were in attendance and the corporation did not issue any statement to the Uber Canada website.
A long-time limo driver who joined Uber as an Uber Black driver, Butt was the led the demonstration to protest low pay and unfair practices.
He points out that 300 Uber Black drivers applied to unionize, in January of 2020, hoping to bring Uber to the table to discuss such issues. But 18 months later, this application is still bogged down at the Ontario Labour Relations Board, with Butt alleging that Uber is attempting to block this process.
“We have the right (to organize), and then we can take care of our families properly,” he insists. Since its 2009 inception, Uber has steadfastly maintained it is a technology company, and that its drivers are individual contractors rather than employees.
The idea behind the #UBERSTRIKE was for drivers to not log on during 24 hours on September 28, and for passengers to not cross the digital picket lines and not book service. On May 28, many UK drivers, similarly, turned the Uber app off to withhold their services.
The September 28th Toronto strike was supported financially and logistically by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and the Food and Commercial Workers Union (FCWU).
Pablo Godoy, the FCWU’s national coordinator for gig and platform-based industry says the primary goals are to get Uber drivers recognized, and to change their working conditions — over which they currently have virtually no say.
“Primarily, it’s the lack of representation in a meaningful way,” Godoy says. “We know when a lot of drivers bring their issues to Uber, they’re often ignored.”
There’s no cap on Uber drivers. That means the system is a free-for-all, with very little regulations.”
“If anything, you create a system where people are left to fight (for themselves). There’s no cap on Uber drivers. That means the system is a free-for-all, with very little regulations.”
Of the September 28 demonstration he adds, “I think it shows workers across the world are taking a stand. There are governments taking a stand in the UK, Italy, New York, California, and Seattle.”
While he was making a respectable living for his family for many years, Uber Black driver Mohamad Bhatti says ever since 2016, “it’s on the way down.”
“Since then, I have no say and can hardly survive. My working hours have doubled,” he relates. “Plus, (there’s) the pandemic. Right now, we are starving.”
When asked what’s the biggest issue for rideshare drivers, 7 year Uber driver Earla Phillips responds, “Proliferation. Misclassification. There are 83,000 PTC (Private Transportation Company) drivers in Toronto. That’s more than New York City.”
And she says the general public “absolutely” should know how Uber drivers are treated.
“Uber became popular because it was cheap, and it was cheap on the back of drivers and due to the backing of venture capitalists, which has dried up,” she comments. “The reality is, the cheap fares were unsustainable and came at the cost of workers. Most of us make minimum wage. We shoulder all the costs, all the liability, all the responsibility.”
Ironically, the #UBERSTRIKE demands mirror the regulatory framework to which taxis had been subject to for decades — before Uber arrived in Toronto in 2013, effectively subverting the existing by-law, then encouraging the City to develop one more in Uber’s favour in 2016.
Butt maintains there must be: a cap on the number of PTC cars; driver training; safety measures for vehicles; adherence to Toronto’s extension to a a 9-year life for vehicles for hire; and insurance rates which are equitable for Uber Black drivers, compared to Uber X and taxi drivers.
“You have to send these drivers for training to understand commercial driving,” he stresses. “This is already delayed almost 1.5 years. They don’t have the education like taxi drivers,” he adds. “They’re only looking at the app, that’s it.”
As second-generation Toronto taxi operator David Reti noted earlier in September: “Amazing. Their current demands formed the basis of the regulatory system that was already in place. Who could have foreseen that we’d come full circle like this? If only someone had said something earlier.”
Mark Sexsmith, account manager of All-Star Taxi in Mississauga suggests there’s a “pretty simple” solution for Uber drivers who are struggling – to move over to taxi driving where the expenses are approximately $1100 per month, versus $1800 per month.
Amazing. Their current demands formed the basis of the regulatory system that was already in place. Who could have foreseen that we’d come full circle like this? If only someone had said something sooner.
“From what I understand Uber service is getting tougher and tougher to get. Not just here — all over, London and New York,” he says.
“When CERB quits (October 22), you will have to go out and get a real job. You won’t be driving Uber.”
According to Phillips, more than a few Uber drivers have already found another job.
Butt says that with support from the UFCW and OFL, “We are hopeful to get our union rights soon.”
Gig economy unions are going global to fight multinational giants like Uber, Lyft, and Ola, with the launch of the International Alliance of App-Based Transport Workers, in February of 2020.
On August 19, the Ontario Superior Court certified the class action law suit led by Uber Eats driver David Heller against Uber Technologies Inc. to move forward. Heller is fighting to get Uber’s Canadian drivers and couriers certified as employees.