Bread & Roses: Labor Commission Grants Rights to Uber Eats Union

SNA (Tokyo) — US President Joe Biden ensured that December 2, 2022, will go down as a dark day in the history of the US labor movement. He signed legislation that forces railway unions to accept a miserable contract, robbing them of their right to strike for better conditions. A week prior, the Tokyo Labor Relations Commission provided us a brighter day in labor history with the first ever ruling extending union rights to those engaged in work via an online platform.

The Tokyo Labor Relations Commission ruled that Uber Eats Japan’s “delivery partners” are workers and have all three trade union rights–the right to solidarity, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike. The commission ordered Uber Eats Japan as well as two Uber subcontractors that handle delivery driver registration, support, and education to negotiate with the Uber Eats Union in good faith.

The delivery giant registers its deliverers as individual service providers with zero protection under Japanese labor laws, including the key Labor Standards Act and Trade Union Act.

The definition of rodosha (worker or employee) differs depending on which labor law is applied, be it the Labor Standards Act, the Trade Union Act, the National Health Insurance Act, or one of many others. The definition under the Trade Union Act has the broadest scope, so many workers have union rights, but don’t enjoy wage and other rights as stipulated in the Labor Standards Act.

Article 1 of the Trade Union Act stipulates the purpose of the law–to ensure that workers can band together (“combine” in Adam Smith’s terminology) to increase their negotiating position, come to the table with employers as equals, and improve their working conditions.

The Tokyo Labor Relations Commission had to determine whether or not Uber Eats delivery partners (in Uber’s phony circumlocution) enjoy the status of rodosha and its attendant three union rights. The corporation claims that it provides the service of “matching” restaurants and those who want to order food, and thus its platform users don’t “provide labor” to the Uber Eats platform operator.

“Uber doesn’t only provide the platform to the delivery partners,” the judgement read.

The reality is that it is in many different ways involved in the completion of the delivery, and since the delivery partners must complete their deliveries under Uber oversight, it’s hard to conceive them as being nothing more than simple “customers” (platform users). We can strongly infer the possibility of assessing what they do as providing labor to Uber, which runs the business within the overall Uber Eats business.

The following labor ministry checklist, created based on previous jurisprudence, is used to determine rodosha status under the Trade Union Act:

1. The purported rodosha are integral to the business organization
2. Contracts are written unilaterally or uniformly
3. Remuneration is in exchange for labor/work
4. The purported rodosha are expected to accept orders (i.e. not really free to say no)
5. Work hours and locations are determined by the corporation, not by purported rodosha
6. The corporation takes the key risks, rewards, and decisions who does the work

In other words, courts and labor commissions have looked not only at the words written on the contract, but also at the reality of the relationship between the corporation and the purported rodosha.

The Tokyo Labor Commission ruled September 3, 2019, that language teachers working at Gaba had all three labor union rights based on the actual relationship between Gaba and teacher, despite Gaba contracts alleging that instructors are independent service providers. The commission took cognizance of the fact that both Uber Eats and Gaba set forth strict, detailed rules that their deliverers or teachers must follow, contradicting the notion that they are merely intermediaries matching up providers and users.

Gaba appealed its loss to the Central Labor Relations Commission in a case nearing its conclusion. Uber Eats is considering its options, including an appeal to the higher body.

Platform operators like Uber are growing in number, in part due to the impact of the pandemic. Whereas it does afford platform workers a degree of freedom in terms of working times and locations, the jobs inherently lack security, social insurance, and other social safety benefits. Some have called for the drafting of legislation to protect freelancers.

So far, however, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has not moved forward with policies to protect platform workers.

This ruling is a good first step, to be sure, but it should also be obvious. Corporations are increasingly turning to this model of treating working people and their labor as commodities to enrich themselves and their businesses, while taking zero responsibility for their rights, protections, or welfare.

Let us condemn this insidious corporate machination, even as we welcome this particular verdict.

This article was written by Hifumi Okunuki, and originally published by the Shingetsu News Agency (SNA).

Union-Busting Case Begins Against Tokyo West Int. School. 東京ウエストインターナショナルスクール、不当労働行為調査が開始

 Tokyo Labor Relations Commission began hearings on Monday, May 24 against Tokyo West International School. On April 1, 2021, Tozen Union and its local TWIST had filed a petition claiming that the school targeted the union in an attempt to weaken or destroy it, including unfair dismissals of three union teachers. 

   Union members expressed excitement to get the proceedings under way but were bewildered at claims made in the school’s defense brief that they had never before heard.


 2021年5月24日(月)、東京都労働委員会において、東京ウエストインターナショナルスクールを相手にした不当労働行為の第1回調査期日が行われた。2021年4月1日、東ゼン労組と東京ウエストインターナショナルスクール東ゼン(略称「TWIST」)は、同学校による3名の組合員講師に対する不当解雇を含めて、組合員を狙って組合を弱体化しようとしたという主張を理由に不当労働行為の救済を申し立てた。

 組合員らは調査開始に対して喜びを見せたが、学校側から届いた大量の証拠資料の中には、これまで耳にしたことのない主張が含まれていたことに驚いた。

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東ゼン労組vs桜美林大学 Tozen Union Vs. Oberlin University

The members of the Oberlin University local

2020年1月17日(金)、東ゼン労組は桜美林大学団交拒否の事件における東京都労働委員会の第一期日を行った。今回の期日では大きな進歩が見られた。学校側は、団交の通訳者を手配すること、また職場における主たる言語(英語)で交渉することに合意した。組合と学校側は、数週間後に再度団交における基本的なルールを決定するために話し合いを行う。現在に至るまでどの問題にも解決の兆しが見られなかった組合としては、今回の期日は解決へ向けての第一歩であった。

On Friday 17th January 2020, Tozen Union had its first hearing at Tokyo Labour Comission for the case of Oberlin University’s refusal to negotiate at Collective Bargaining. We have made a great deal of progress. Management has agreed to bring an interpreter to Collective bargaining so our members can communicate in the language of labor relations, which is English. The union and the university will meet over the next couple of weeks and attempt to set ground rules for collective bargaining sessions. While we have not addressed every issue, this hearing was a step in the right direction.  

Gaba Teachers can Strike: Labor Board

Language school Gaba must recognize the right of instructors to strike, the Tokyo Labor Commission ruled today. 

Tozen Union and its local chapter Gaba Workers Union sued the language giant in 2016 to overturn warning letters issued to strikings teachers. 

Gaba has its more than one thousand teachers on private service provider contracts called gyomu itaku. The company argued that since each teacher is just a service provider, they don’t have the rights of workers under Japan’s Trade Union Act. 

The board noted that the teachers effectively qualify as workers for the purpose of that law and that the company must apologize to both unions for interfering in their strike. 

Osaka Labor Commission had previously recognized the right to collective bargaining of a union organizing teachers at Gaba (General Union). 

Management tried to overturn that ruling and argued that even IF teachers have the right to bargaining, they should not also  have the right to strike. 

In Japan, the rights to solidarity, collective bargaining, and collective action (including strikes) are enshrined as a set in Article 28 of the Constitution. 

“This is a victory for all Gaba instructors, including non-union members,” said Gaba Workers Union President Tyler Christensen.       

“It confirms what we’ve always said – Gaba instructors have the same rights as regular employees,” he added. “Now that our right to strike is secure, we look forward to getting back to the bargaining table and continuing to improve working conditions for Gaba instructors.”

The board rejected Gaba’s claim to be able to split the three rights (rodo sanken) as a theory they “just made up.”

Tozen JCFL Local Scores Final Victory in Labor Commission

On August 9th 2019, Tokyo High Court ruled that Japan College of Foreign Languages interfered with union leafleting in June and October of 2013, violating trade union law and the constitutional rights of Tozen Union members.

The Tozen JCFL local, established in 2013, faced a hostile reception from the outset. At two union actions JCFL obstructed union leafleting. The union sued JCFL in the Tokyo Labor Relations Commission. On Jan 25, 2016, the commission ruled that the school had interfered with legitimate union activity and ordered the school to apologize.

JCFL appealed to the Central Labor Relations Commission, which upheld the ruling.

The school sued the government to overturn the ruling. On March 1, 2019 Tokyo District Court again ruled against JCFL. The school took the case to Tokyo High Court which rejected JCFL’s appeal.

On Aug 13, six years removed from the illegal obstruction, JCFL finally apologized to the union.

“Rather than take responsibility from the very beginning and simply apologize, JCFL has adopted a strategy of stonewalling and endless litigation, wasting time and prolonging the inevitable,” said Tozen Senior Organizer Gerome Rothman. “JCFL has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the union, except under court order.”

Union President Todd Williams said, “To call this a hard won victory for the union would be an understatement. It is a testament to the grit and tenacity of our members. JCFL cannot escape the consequences of its belligerence towards the union.”

Tozen Union wins another victory over JCFL

 

The Tokyo Labor Commission ruled Monday morning that Japan College of Foreign Languages (JCFL, a division of Bunsai Gakuen) illegally discriminated against a member of the JCFL local due to his union activity by reducing his work load.  The commission held that in doing so JCFL management inflicted financial damages against him.  The commission ordered that JCFL pay the member backpay for his unpaid wages.

Further, the commission ruled that JCFL has been bargaining in bad faith about student satisfaction score data that had influenced management’s decision to reduce the workload of a union member.  Management was ordered to bargain in good faith.

The commission has ordered management to apologize for violating the constitutional rights of our members and to post a large sign apologizing to the union at the workplace for ten days.

The victory was thanks to the relentless struggle of the local.

The union had also filed several other claims with labor commission including interference with a leafleting and failure to bargain in good faith with the union by refusing to disclose the official work rules.  While these claims were not upheld by labor commission the union is considering filing an appeal.

Tozen Union has grown to 235 members in 20 locals.