Toronto couriers prepare for strike with benefit concert

Toronto couriers prepare for strike with benefit concert

Band practice for the Idaho Stop. "I am an employee in disguise" poster on drum set in preparation for the strike-fund benefit.

What: Strike-Fund Benefit concert featuring Idaho Stop, Abdominal and the Obliques, Sunny D and Uncle Dropsi, Dan Greer.

When: Friday, September 13

Where: Steelworkers hall, 29 Cecil Street

See event on Facebook here.

Story and photos by Amelia Brown

This month, Friday the 13th looks like it could be a lucky day for our city’s couriers. A “strike-fund” benefit concert -- organized by the Toronto Courier Local (part of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers) -- will raise money  for couriers who are financially stricken and unable to engage in collective action for their own employment rights.

“The benefit concert is something we’ve talked about for a while. We’ve had a union certification for over three years now,  yet there’s been no meaningful movement in collective bargaining with the employer on our core issues; employment rights,” says bike messenger and event organizer, Kevin Barnhorst, who is President of the Toronto Courier Local. Specifically, the main issues Barnhorst says that couriers want addressed are: lack of vacation pay, statutory holiday pay and making a living wage.

The funds raised through this benefit concert will be used to start a strike fund for couriers in Toronto. “We need money to go on strike. We’re all pretty close to the edge financially, even when we’re working,” says Barnhorst.  “We certainly don’t have savings or resources to carry on without working.”

Vice-president of the Toronto Courier Local, and fellow bike courier Joel Dalton agrees: “We have to build up a war chest, and this is just the kick-off. It’s a rally to get this issue into the forefront.”

Indeed, Friday's kick-off is meant to raise spirits as well as funds for the tightly knit courier community.

Dalton and Barnhorst will be playing at the benefit as “Idaho Stop,” in a lineup that includes other courier-friendly musicians, Abdominal and the Obliques, Sunny D, Uncle Dropsi and Dan Greer.

Dalton decided on the band name after hearing about the Idaho Stop. The law in that state allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield when cars are not present, which has improved safety. (Read our dandy story “Rolling stops yield better safety” here.) Dalton and Barnhorst agree that the rolling stop mentality is how most cyclists approach stop signs, even those outside of Idaho’s state lines.

Policy aside, riding the streets alongside cars for 40-plus hours a week is a dangerous endeavor. Barnhorst recently suffered a broken hand after getting doored on the job. He spent two weeks recovering, and is now delivering by foot.

“I’m lucky,” Barnhorst says.  He had some savings, where many couriers do not, and he also qualified for the Bike Messengers Emergency Fund (BMEF) an international organization that provides injured messengers with a cheque during the first week of their injury.

Joel Dalton (left) and Kevin Barnhorst (right) practicing with the Idaho stop, whose members also include Will Culbert, Pen Lascano, Austen Valentine, Jen Hickey and Roberto Granados-Ocon.

Some couriers can’t afford to take time off after an injury, and are left with few choices when they’re not covered.  After an injury, some get back on their bike, risking permanent damage to their bodies.

Barnhorst adds that he did receive a cheque from WSIB, (Workers Safety and Insurance Board), but it didn't come for over a month after the accident.

The process of getting injured offered more disillusionment for Barnhorst.“The thing that I learned about WSIB is that it’s really there to benefit the employer. It’s an insurance program for them. And they don’t make it easy for someone who is classified as an independent contractor to collect benefits, just to get by.”

Joel Dalton, bike messenger, vice-president of the Toronto Courier Local and guitarist for Idaho Stop.

The classification of couriers as independent contractors is one of the things the Toronto Courier Local hopes to change.  Vacation pay, employment insurance, minimum wage – all standard securities for most employees that are not given to couriers because of their classification as independent contractors. To add insult to injury, for programs like the Canadian Pension Plan, couriers are made to pay both the employer and employee portion, which Dalton describes as a “raw deal.”

“Basically, all of the risks of doing business are passed down to the courier,” Barnhorst says.

“The [courier company] employer has zero liability and zero responsibility to their employees because technically, they don’t have any employees,” Dalton adds. “Whether they have 100 messengers or 10 out on the street, they make the same profit; a 40 % commission.”

The Toronto Courier Local hopes to deliver a message to the companies -- notably Toronto’s Quick Messenger Service -- who employ and exploit them: “We want to demonstrate to them that we have a lot of support from community allies who are on our side.” Barnhorst says they also hope to “shine a light” on an industry that very few people really know the details of.

“Even our clients, they just kind of assume that we make a living wage, that it’s a job like any other. But that’s really not the case.”

What: Strike-Fund Benefit concert featuring Idaho Stop, Abdominal and the Obliques, Sunny D and Uncle Dropsi, Dan Greer.

When: Friday, September 13

Where: Steelworkers hall, 29 Cecil Street

Can't make the event but still want to help out? Donations can be mailed to:

CUPW Toronto Courier Local                                                                                                                                                            104 at 720 King Street West Suite 403,                                                                                                                                         Toronto, ON M5V 3S5

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Related on the dandyBLOG:

Christopher Kaiser shoots Kevin Barnhorst for the Food Issue

dandyREVIEW: Premium Rush vs. Line of Sight

Q&A with Lucas Brunelle on the making of the film Line of Sight

Rolling stops yield better safety: an examination of  the "Idaho Stop" from issue #10

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2 responses to “Toronto couriers prepare for strike with benefit concert”

  1. Jamie Thiers says:

    Is the Toronto Courier Local accepting donations for the strike fund, online or by other means?

    • Amelia Brown says:

      Good call on the comment Jamie!
      They just set up a PO Box to accept donations, anyone interested in helping out can mail donations to:

      CUPW Toronto Courier Local 104 at 720 King Street West Suite 403, Toronto, ON M5V 3S5

      I’ve updated the piece to include this information. Thanks!

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