Gig Workers Collective, a grassroots organization fighting for better treatment of independent contractors, has announced planning for a walk off for Instacart shoppers on October 16. The group says shoppers will cease work until Instacart meets five demands, which include better pay and benefits. “We know that in order for us to see change, we need to hit Instacart where it hurts,” Willy Solis, a member of Gig Workers Collective, told Vice. “We’re organizing the walk-off because the company continues to ignore us. Our goal is to get Instacart to engage with us.”
In its announcement, Gig Workers Collective details the absurd conditions and pay structures currently experienced by Instacart shoppers. “In 2019, when [Instacart founder] Apoorva Mehta publicly apologized for supplementing pay with tips in response to our protests, the company lowered the base pay floor from $10 to $7,” the group says. It also claims that $7 is the base pay shoppers receive for batch orders and that, since the company removed item commission, pay doesn’t increase regardless of the order size. “If we shopped three orders at once, the base pay would be $7 for the lot. Instead of a shopper fulfilling three orders for a total of $30 base, we now do it for a $7 base. This is effectively a 76% cut to base pay, and is unacceptable.”
Currently, Instacart’s website does not explicitly state any minimum pay for shoppers. Instead it reads that shoppers’ pay “depends on their role type and other factors.” According to the company, there is a guaranteed minimum of $7 to $10 per full-service batch, which goes up depending on expected time and effort. Shoppers can also see how much each batch will pay out before they accept the order.
Gig Workers Collective also flags problems with Instacart’s rating system, which leaves shoppers susceptible to scams, or low ratings for things that are outside of their control. Ratings can affect which orders shoppers are eligible for, and how much they earn. Instacart has temporarily suspended the accounts of workers who cancel orders, even in cases where the customer wasn’t home at the designated time, the delivery address was wrong, or when minors were trying to purchase alcohol. “Instacart’s lacking fraud detection ability and policies make it very easy for customers to get free groceries by falsely marking items as missing/damaged, with the blame constantly falling on the shopper,” says Gig Workers Collective. “A single 4-star rating is enough to affect our pay for weeks.”
Gig Workers Collective is calling on Instacart to add occupational death benefits, on top of the shopper injury protection insurance that the company began offering in 2019, and to raise the minimum tip to 10 percent. Instacart’s tipping policy has come under fire before, like in 2019 when the company admitted to using tips to subsidize minimum payment guarantees. “These changes were designed to increase transparency while also keeping pace with a rapidly-evolving industry,” Mehta wrote in a blog post at the time. “In doing so, we’ve tried, in good faith, to balance those needs, but clearly we haven’t always gotten it right.”
Early in the pandemic, Gig Workers Collective planned a nationwide strike to demand hazard pay, an expanded extended pay policy, and cleaning supplies. Recently, the organization also asked customers to stop using Instacart, detailing how the company intentionally exploits workers for the benefit of its corporate employees, “all vying to become rich when Instacart finally goes public.” Using the hashtag #DeleteInstacart, the organization said that asking customers to avoid the service could be a significant sacrifice for many, “but we have spent the past five years fighting for better working conditions and firmly believe we have exhausted all less drastic options.”
In a statement, Instacart told Eater, “We take shopper feedback very seriously and remain dedicated to listening and learning from our community to improve the Instacart shopper experience. While historically the actions by this group have not resulted in any disruption or impact to our service, our relationship with all shoppers is incredibly important and we’re deeply committed to doing right by them.” The company also said, “These claims do not reflect the current shopper experience, and in some cases, the demands are for offerings that already exist on the platform.” For instance, the company specified the shopper injury protection insurance includes accidental death coverage. It also says things low ratings due to things out of the shopper’s control are automatically forgiven, though stories from shoppers imply that hasn’t always been the case, and that the ratings system is still unfair.
For people who are immunocompromised or are otherwise unable to do their own grocery shopping, services like Instacart are essential, especially when local grocers don’t already provide delivery. But for others, the service is mostly a convenience; grocery shopping is a chore, and paying someone a minor fee to do it for you is hugely tempting. During the pandemic, restaurant and grocery delivery boomed, as more people relied on “essential workers” like Instacart shoppers to do the risky work of running errands. At the time, Instacart actively fought against requirements to give shoppers hazard pay in places where it was required.
The pandemic has, perhaps inevitably, revealed the true costs of many conveniences that previously have been taken for granted. Getting nearly anything you want brought to your door as soon as you want it requires a lot of work (just not by you), and even when there is an added delivery fee, as there now is with Whole Foods, it rarely goes to the people doing your shopping. Deliveries have been kept artificially cheap because Instacart offers low wages and doesn’t classify its shoppers as employees, all while continuing to raise millions as a company. The convenience of delivery doesn’t have to rely on exploitation. And hopefully, as more workers demand what their dues, it won’t be able to.