A group of workers on the grocery delivery app Instacart are organizing a nationwide strike from November 3-5 to demand that the company restore its old tipping policies.
Specifically, workers will ask Instacart to raise the default tip amount set by the company from 5% to 10% per order.
“We did not arrive at the 10% figure arbitrarily, rather this is what the default tip amount was back when I and many others started working for Instacart,” Vanessa Bain, an Instacart Shopper from Menlo Park, California, and one of the lead organizers of the strike, wrote in a post on Medium Wednesday. Bain started working on the app in 2016. “We are simply demanding the restoration of what was originally promised.”
Instacart shoppers who participate in the 3-day strike will be asked to take one of three actions depending on their financial situation and the amount of risk they’re willing to take. Some workers will turn the app off for three days. Others hoping to do more disrupt Instacart’s system will sign up for as many regular orders as possible and then cancel them, passing them onto the next worker.
Those willing to take on the most risk won’t fulfill batches of special “on demand” orders, letting them time out, and getting kicked off the app, and then repeating the process once they are let back on. (When workers let too many batches time out, Instacart temporarily kicks them off the app.)
“We take the feedback of the shopper community very seriously and remain committed to listening to and using that feedback to improve their experience,” Instacart told Motherboard in response to news of the strike.
Are you or your friends organizing a worker action on a gig economy platform? Do you work for a food delivery app and have a story to tell? Please get in touch. You can send Lauren tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bain, who has led an annual action against the company for the past three years, is using the 13,600 member Facebook group “Instacart Shoppers (National)” to organize the protest. She told Motherboard that she expects thousands of Instacart workers, known as ‘shoppers,” to participate in the action. Aside from raising the default tip amount, workers will demand that Instacart give them the entirety of each tip and remove an “intentionally confusing & obsolete ‘service fee,’” which misleadingly goes directly into the pockets of the company, not its workers. Instacart told Motherboard that shoppers currently receive the entirety of the tip that customers leave.
Since 2016, Instacart shoppers have seen what used to be a good paying side hustle devolve rapidly, they said. Three years ago, the app turned a default 10% tipping fee built into each order into a 10% service fee that went directly to the company. Instacart has since increased the tipping default to 5% percent per batch, but continues to take out a service fee that goes directly to the company, but which workers say misleads customers into thinking that they’re tipping shoppers. Instacart has been valued at $4 billion and has a workforce of 130,000 shoppers in the US.
In February, reacting to sustained outrage from labor organizers, politicians, and workers that Instacart used tips to pay workers their base pay, the company promised to calculate tips separate from base pay, and introduced minimum fees of $5 to $10 per order, depending on the task and city. But workers continue to complain that their tips have been mysteriously decreasing.
Bain says workers feel that reductions in pay over the past two years are a “bait and switch” on the part of the company to lure gig workers in and leave them beholden to the app.
“They’re not paying us enough to get by and they’re not paying us enough to save and get out of gig work,” said Bain, who said she used to make $1,500 for 40 hours of work on the app when she started in 2016. Now she says she’s “paying a very high cost to make a small amount of money. All of the companies benefit from keeping you trapped in cyclical poverty. You’re dependent on it to make ends meet each week. Some people are performing a service, earning the money, and cashing it out immediately afterward to pay for gas to keep working.”
Bain says the strike will last three days “because one is not destructive enough. The main point is to pressure Instacart into doing what they should do anyway, and that is to restore our tips to their previous amounts.”