A group of Instacart gig workers is asking customers to delete the app until the grocery-delivery company agrees to improve pay and working conditions. In an open letter published yesterday on Medium, they lay out how their employer has spent the past five years “relentlessly gutting shoppers’ wages, exploiting its improperly classified workforce, and outright stealing shoppers’ wages and tips on its path to its highly anticipated public offering.” They note a brief optimism emerged in July after Fidji Simo was hired as Instacart’s new CEO, but claim that since she took over, “pay and working conditions have sunk to an all-time low.”
Instacart’s valuation doubled to $39 billion last March, following a new funding round. Like other companies that rely on the gig economy, Instacart has fought to keep workers—it calls them “shoppers”—as “independent contractors,” meaning they cannot receive overtime pay or health insurance, form a union, or receive most other basic labor protections. This plus the pandemic has pushed many workers to the brink.
Their letter outlines five demands they say need to be met before Instacart customers can ethically order from the app again:
1. Pay deliverers a base amount for each order, not by the batch. Deliverers currently earn a base pay of $7 per trip, but an Instacart trip can be a batch of up to three separate orders, all bundled together. “If we shopped a single order,” they write, “the base pay would be $7, but if we shopped three orders at once, the base pay would be $7 for the lot.”
2. Reintroduce item commission. The $7 base pay was, in theory, a floor that would increase based on the order’s size. “However, nearly every order now pays $7 regardless of the size. A single two-item order pays $7, and a triple 50-item order pays $7.”
3. Reform the rating system, which currently punishes workers “for issues outside their control.” Customer fraud is a problem, they argue: It’s “very easy for customers to get free groceries by falsely marking items as missing/damaged.” When this occurs, they say workers nearly always get blamed. That lowers their ratings, or can even get them deactivated from the platform. Reports have shown a single 4-star rating can affect pay for weeks. (Instacart says measures are in place to ensure a fair rating system, like automatically dropping the lowest of a deliverer’s last 100 ratings, and deleting ratings sometimes if the weather gets bad or fraud has occurred. The company also plans to release new improvements to the ratings system soon.)
4. Provide occupational death benefits, alongside normal workers’ compensation. “The last 18 months have been especially dangerous for Instacart shoppers,” they write. To get sick pay for workers who tested positive for COVID-19, they argued they had to go on strike. (That sick pay, however, does include up to 14 days of pay for any worker diagnosed with COVID or placed in quarantine.)
5. Raise the app’s default tip, from 5% to 10%. “A 5% default tip is abysmal when paired with Instacart’s low pay.” Workers say as much as 75% of their pay comes through tips.
Reached by Fast Company, Instacart said in a statement, “We take shopper feedback very seriously and remain committed to listening to and using that feedback to improve their experience.” It added that the company is “deeply committed to creating the best possible experience for our shopper community,” which in recent years has led to new policies and support that have resulted in “the highest shopper sentiment in company history.”
“Asking customers to delete the Instacart app in the midst of a pandemic is not something we take lightly,” the workers’ letter concludes. “But we have spent the past five years fighting for better working conditions and firmly believe we have exhausted all less drastic options.”