Lawyera

Union gathering reveals a lot of discontent among VFH drivers serving Pearson International

By invitation, I was present at a union organization meeting held October 9th at the Sheraton Hotel on Dixon Road near the airport for Uber, Limo and other drivers working at Pearson International Airport.

The hosts were the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and the meeting leader was Ejaz Butt, assisted by others active in the attempt to organized Uber, Lyft and other drivers.

My first guess is about 60 drivers attended. The meeting, question and answer plus one-on-one talk, lasted about 2 hours.

In a follow up email, Butt commented that in addition to the driver unhappiness with the pay they are getting from Uber and other PTC companies, plus various policies, procedures and fees put in place by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and the PTC companies, a serious issue for all those working at the airport right now is the rising cost of commercial vehicle insurance.

He tells me “everyone is scared…because these (insurance) companies” are “boosting up insurance rates, around 30 percent in next renewals,” Butt said. “Drivers requested to the union to arrange their own links to companies of insurance, who provided insurance service, with economical rates, which are worthwhile to drivers, with extra benefits of life insurance/critical illnesses, etc.”

I personally have not checked out insurance rates and possible increases affecting Toronto taxis and limousines yet. This is fast going to become a critical issue tor all vehicles for hire in the GTA.

Remember though, we have all seen periodic surges in insurance rates over the years, with some companies getting out of taxi and related insurance business completely, leaving very limited choices.

I do not know if this will be the case this time around. I hope not.

Insurance companies are not in business to lose money. Taxis over the years have demonstrated they are, for insurers, let’s just say problematic. Put another way, too many taxis are involved in very, very expensive accidents. Just one personal injury settlement will eat up a lot of premiums paid by accident free drivers.

This is one area municipal regulators have absolutely no control over. Insurance is a provincial responsibility. Historically, provincial governments pretty much give insurers what they want. I certainly won’t hold out a lot of hope for meaningful help to come from the province.

I also suspect owners and drivers of accessible vehicles are going to get dinged very hard by rate increases. Those providing this service are already paying through the nose. I further do not expect to see a lot of movement in what these providers are getting paid to transport the disabled even in the face of higher operating costs.

This is likely to be rough ride.

So now I get on to what union organizers say are driver concerns and demands particularly at PIA, but also dealing with some municipal bylaws.

First are problems with PIA Terminal 3 departure areas, “due to valet parking in the start of the drop off locations for United States bound flights.”

The suggestion is that what he calls an “artificial conjunction” between licensed airport vehicles and Uber, Lyft, etc. PTC cars could possibly be avoided if PTC parking was shifted to the end of the Departures area.

Second, Butt says “the prearranged airport tax must be reduced from $15 to around $8, because there is unfairness with taxi/limousine drivers of Toronto and other cities.”

These drivers are paying a pre-arranged fee of $15 while Uber/Lyft and airport vehicles are paying only $5 to $8 when they pick up through the prearranged system.

In a second category of demands, Butt notes Uber gets brokerage (PTC) licensed calls from the City of Toronto. So the demand is that the PTCs “must respect and accept all bylaws approved by the City of Toronto community.”

Further, he says City approved commercial vehicles (taxis and limos) serving in City of Toronto, are allowed to operate for 7 years, “but Uber is forcing their drivers to change vehicles after 5 years.”

I had not heard this before. Vehicle rules for PTCs and taxis should be uniform and enforced.

As well. Butt says Uber is not accepting City of Toronto approved vehicles, but instead has developed its own vehicle list.

Third, Uber “Must stop rating systems, which penalize drivers, and make unsafe (working) environments,” there must be caps on the number of Uber vehicles working “due to the flood of vehicles and racing for jobs.” He says the glut of vehicles cause more accidents but also cause environmental problems. (Gee, where have I heard this before?)

Finally, regarding Toronto laws, Butt and his group are demanding cancellation of Letters of Agreement requiring limo drivers be affiliated with a company, and to cancel staging bylaws.

About the last two, I’ve always been in agreement with them on the first point. It is flat out wrong to limit a licensee’s freedom of employment choice. On staging, this is at least problematic. Limos are not taxis and should not be treated as taxis. Pre-arranged fare requirements and staging rules were put in place for very good reasons.

I spoke with one Uber driver at the meeting who was remarkably open about what he earned. One week in 70 hours he earned $1,876.50 gross. A second week for 75 hours work he earned $1,764.69 gross. A third week he earned just about $1,900 gross in 79 hours.

That is $25.63 per hour before all expenses.

I don’t know what those expenses were but the gas costs alone have to be major. Those saying Uber drivers are making less than $15/hour net are likely right.

Then the exhaustion factor that has to kick in. Is any driver safe working those hours?

The bar to form a union is high, but not insurmountable. So I’d say it is not out of the question.

I won’t say these drivers should unionize, or not. I do agree with many of the issues they raise. A union may be the only way to solve some of the problems.

We at TN will continue to follow this effort.

 

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