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(Adds comment from UFCW executive, details on agreement)
By Tina Bellon
Jan 27 (Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc on Thursday said it had reached an agreement with Canada's largest services-sector union to offer employee-like benefits to contractors who work as ride-hail and food delivery drivers.
Uber and United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW) said https://www.uber.com/en-CA/newsroom/uber-canada-and-ufcw-canada-reach-historic-national-agreement-to-benefit-drivers-and-delivery-people they will jointly lobby Canada's provincial governments to pass labor reforms that would provide gig workers with minimum earnings of at least 120% of local minimum wage, a benefits fund that includes pension and sick pay and other workers' rights.
Today, those benefits are generally reserved for employees, leaving gig workers, who are largely independent contractors, without benefits and protections.
Under the five-year agreement, Canada's 100,000 Uber drivers and delivery workers would also have a right to legal representation by the union in case of disputes with the company, such as when getting kicked off Uber's platform.
The union will also meet with Uber twice a year to address workers' health and safety concerns, said Barry Sawyer, the executive assistant to the UFCW national president.
Sawyer said the union purposefully avoided addressing the thorny issue of gig workers' legal status in its agreement with Uber.
Uber and labor unions around the world have for years sparred over the question of whether gig workers should be reclassified employees, a designation that would force Uber to provide substantial and costly benefits.
"We're not focused on what you call the workers; the government can make that decision. We just want them to get the rights and benefits they deserve," Sawyer said.
Gig companies have long been criticized for the lack of benefits and protections they offer drivers. Many labor unions, some lawmakers and the Biden administration have said gig workers should be reclassified as employees.
In surveys with UFCW, drivers said they wanted to maintain the flexibility to work on their own schedule, Sawyer said.
Uber, Lyft Inc, DoorDash Inc and other companies have argued that flexibility would be eliminated if they were forced to reclassify workers employees.
In recent years, Uber has pushed lawmakers across the United States, Canada and the European Union to implement what it refers to as the "third way" - a compromise that would maintain workers' contractor status, but provide them with some benefits.
Uber struck a similar deal last year https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/ubers-uk-drivers-gain-collective-bargaining-with-union-recognition-2021-05-26/#:~:text=LONDON%2C%20May%2026%20(Reuters),on%20behalf%20of%20the%20workforce with Britain's GMB union, allowing it to represent up to 70,000 drivers and boosting the power of workers with collective bargaining.
California voters in 2020 approved such a compromise model in a decisive win for the companies, dividing the U.S. labor https://www.reuters.com/business/gig-companies-push-state-level-worker-laws-faces-divided-labor-movement-2021-06-09 movement in its strategy towards gig workers. (Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas Editing by Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman)