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Instacart workers are striking over wages reportedly as low as $1 an hour

Instacart workers are striking over wages reportedly as low as $1 an hour
[Photo: Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images]

This story has been updated.

The dark side of the gig economy is popping up in the grocery aisle. Instacart shoppers and drivers–the people who gather your groceries and deliver them to you after you order via the Instacart app–are on strike. While independent contractors can’t technically strike, via a Facebook group some of the company’s thousands of employees have organized a “no delivery day” in the hopes of getting higher wages, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The strike is only taking place in a few of the 154 cities nationwide that Instacart operates in. And it only involves .2% of shoppers and drivers, according to a source familiar with the matter. The action may be small, but the grievances are big. While Instacart, the 5-year-old San Francisco startup, is valued at $3.4 billion, it allegedly pays its workers as little as $1 per order.  Ars Technica has a great breakdown of all the issues surrounding how Instacart employees get paid and it’s complex, with three different income streams coming together Voltron-like to form a wage. The result, though, is that some shoppers are being paid less than the federal minimum wage, like a Jackson, Miss., worker who put in a 19-hour week in Jackson, Mississippi, that paid out $37.75 (roughly $2/hour). That’s far below the $14/hour wage that Ars Technica says Instacart is targeting.

Instacart disputes some of those allegations, sending the following statement to Fast Company:

Five years ago, there were few options for working in grocery. Today, hundreds of thousands of Shoppers are in the Instacart community around the country, picking and delivering groceries for grateful customers and helping local retail stores compete in a changing economy. Instacart empowers Shoppers by giving them a choice in how they work with Instacart – either as a part-time employee or independent contractor – and we’re working side by side with thousands of Shoppers to create real opportunities.

In today’s action, workers are hoping will draw attention to the issue. In addition to striking for higher wages, the workers want Instacart to make a few changes to their compensation structure, by charging customers more for large or heavy orders and making it more obvious on the app that you should really tip the Instacart shopper who schlepped 12 eggplants and a case of La Croix to your doorstep.

This isn’t the first time that Instacart’s employees have banded together to try and get the company to improve its payment system. They recently reached a preliminary settlement of $4.6 million, in a suit brought by its workers alleging improper tip pooling and failure to reimburse workers for business expenses.ML