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Gig WorkersModern ShipperNews

Instacart shoppers plan nationwide strike for Saturday

Shoppers have a list of 5 demands for the grocery delivery company

It should come as no surprise that the state of the gig economy is a precarious one. Gig companies like Uber and Lyft are still struggling to make a profit – they’re also struggling to pay their rideshare and food delivery drivers adequately, which has resulted in a nationwide wave of pushback against gig employers, both from their workers and from legislators.

Instacart drivers – referred to as shoppers by the company – are the latest group seeking to make their voices heard. A group of shoppers organized by a nonprofit grassroots organization, the Gig Workers Collective, are calling for a nationwide work stoppage on the Instacart app on Saturday.

Instacart has managed to draw in hundreds of thousands of workers since the start of the pandemic, many of them sucked in by the allure of flexible work hours and what appeared to be solid pay.

“I thought it was a pretty good deal as far as the pay compared to what I was actually doing, the time frame I was allowed to do it in and all that stuff,” Willy Solis, a lead organizer with the Gig Workers Collective and an Instacart shopper since October 2019, told The Guardian.

But soon he had the rug pulled out from under him, he said. Instacart employs a policy that drivers refer to as “batch” orders, which are trips where the driver delivers several different orders to users at multiple addresses. For these batches, Instacart pays shoppers a minimum of $7 (not including tips) rather than a base pay for each individual order. 

The company’s earnings structure for shoppers has not changed since February 2019, when it removed its previous $10 floor on batch earnings, including tips, and raised the minimum payment for batches, not including tips, from $3 to $7.

Instacart also lowered its default tip – the suggested tip amount that users see at checkout – to 5%, despite many shoppers claiming that tips make up the bulk of their income on the app. In an email to Modern Shipper, Instacart said that the default tip changes to match the user’s previous tip, but that means that a user who tips 5% will continue to be prompted with that amount.

For Solis, he says all of this has resulted in him struggling to break $500 per week after bringing in $1,000 per week when he originally began driving for the company.

It’s getting to the point where it’s just not enough and I’m not making what I need to make.

Willy Solis, Instacart shopper and LEAD ORGANIZER, GIG WORKERS COLLECTIVE

“It’s getting to the point where it’s just not enough and I’m not making what I need to make,” he said.

In July, a group of Uber (NYSE: UBER) and Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) drivers staged a countrywide strike in an effort to secure further rights and protections. Not long after, California’s Proposition 22, which exempted rideshare companies from classifying their drivers as employees and providing them the accompanying benefits, was overturned by a county court judge. While the strike may not have gotten the companies themselves to listen, it brought the plight of gig workers into the national spotlight.

“I’m participating in the Instacart walkout because I feel like there is no other option. We don’t have another choice but to get so loud and so vocal that we bring that kind of attention to the issues,” Solis explained.

The Instacart strike led by the Gig Workers Collective will center around five demands: base pay for each order to replace the current “batch” order system; a return to a commission-based pay model; a reinstatement of the 10% default tip for customers; occupational death benefits; and a revised rating system that takes into account things that are beyond the shopper’s control, such as traffic or inventory issues at the grocery store.

For drivers who can’t afford to take the day off in protest, the organization suggests declining any batches that offer the company’s minimum payment of $7. And for users of the Instacart app, shoppers are using the hashtag #DeleteInstacart to urge them to remove the app from their devices.

In a statement to Modern Shipper, Instacart painted a very different picture of the group’s claims: “Based on the ongoing investments we’ve made to support shoppers, these claims do not reflect the current shopper experience, and in some cases, the demands are for offerings that already exist on the platform.”

The company says it has been offering Shopper Injury Protection since September 2019, which offers survivor’s benefits for eligible dependents. But in a petition to the Department of Labor, gig workers say that the family of Lynn Murray, an Instacart shopper who was fatally shot in the 2021 mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, didn’t receive the same death benefits as the families of grocery workers.

Instacart also told Modern Shipper, “Instacart’s dedicated teams consistently engage with active shoppers through a variety of channels and forums to gather feedback and incorporate it into the Instacart shopper experience. The reality is that over the last year, shopper sentiment and engagement remain the highest they’ve been in company history. We’re committed to maintaining a direct dialogue with our active shopper community to further enhance their experience on the platform.”

Shoppers, though, have claimed that their demands have been ignored or met with canned responses from management. The Gig Workers Collective also says that Instacart CEO Fidji Simo has not responded to an open letter with a list of demands that they sent her in August.

For many Instacart shoppers, Saturday will be a monumental moment for them to voice their displeasure with their working conditions. But as one shopper told The Guardian, her strike began in earnest over a month ago.

“I haven’t shopped in more than four weeks now because there’s not one batch that comes on my screen that would put me making over minimum wage,” said Jen, a shopper advocate who has been on the app since April 2020.

Jen, who asked to be identified only by her first name for safety reasons, also felt the brunt of Instacart’s “punishing” (as described by shoppers) ratings system, which she claims allowed users to unfairly leave her negative reviews. For example, despite delivering bags of Halloween candy to a user and taking a picture of the completed delivery, she was still hit with a penalty for not completing the order. Jen even says she watched the user bring the bags of candy inside but that Instacart was no help.


Read: Uber, Lyft and others face a reckoning

Read: 3 Canadian drivers claim dismissal for following Uber’s COVID guidelines


Instacart insisted to Modern Shipper its rating system is fair and accurate, saying that a shopper’s lowest rating out of their last 100 is automatically forgiven and that poor ratings due to limited stock, extreme weather conditions and fraudulent customers may also be forgiven. For Jen, that wasn’t the case.

“At the end of the day, nothing happened. The customer got the candy for free, and I was punished,” she lamented.

Robin Pape, another Instacart shopper and a founding member of the Gig Workers Collective, says that her rating has even dropped when customers don’t leave a review at all. That’s a problem because a dip as miniscule as five stars to 4.96 stars can tank shoppers’ earnings from stable to below the minimum wage.

“I’m supporting the Instacart walkout because if a company can’t afford to pay their contractors a living wage, they don’t need to be in business,” Pape told The Guardian.

Matt Spoke, founder and CEO of gig worker payments platform Moves Financial, told Modern Shipper that he stands with shoppers who will be spending time on other apps over the weekend. But he also points out that collaboration between gig workers across apps could have an even greater impact.

“Instacart shoppers are part of a broader class of workers in the gig economy that face common challenges and need to be coordinated across all of these apps to reflect that,” he said. “That’s to say that a gig worker movement should recognize that most gig workers work for multiple apps. This strike is a good reminder to Instacart that they operate within a competitive market for gig labor.”

One of Moves Financial’s goals is to build a collective of gig workers across different apps. The company boasts an all-in-one service that can manage payments across apps, and it offers insights into more than 15 different gig platforms.

“Our biggest concern is ensuring that gig workers maintain as much flexibility as possible so that they can choose to work on another app on days like this, without feeling penalized or disadvantaged,” Spoke told Modern Shipper.

Gig economy employers like Instacart were feeling very comfortable after the passage of Proposition 22, which the companies saw as the blueprint for a national model of independent contractor status for their workers. But with the reversal of that ballot measure and the onslaught of strikes from Uber drivers, Lyft drivers and now Instacart shoppers, the pressure for change is on.

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