Grocery Delivery Service Instacart Faces Worker Rebellion over Wages, Tipping Policy

Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta
Steve Jennings/Getty

The online grocery delivery app Instacart is facing an internal rebellion among its sprawling network of gig workers who are unhappy about changes in compensation, including the company’s tipping policy.

A week of protest is scheduled to kick off Monday with workers, who are known as “shoppers,” engaging in so-called micro-actions that are designed to draw public attention to their plight. Among their demands is a call on the U.S. Department of Labor to audit Instacart in relation to allegedly missing tips. They are also demanding to be re-classified as full-time employees, not contractors.

Organizers are hoping their protests will “encourage investigations into Instacart’s wage violations, tip misappropriation, and health and safety violations,” according to a recently posted manifesto. Their protests will include contacting lawmakers and OSHA, as well as notifying Instacart’s retail partners of their actions.

Like other delivery apps that rely on gig workers, Instacart has faced public backlash over the way it compensates its army of shoppers. Last year, the San Francisco-based company switched to a new compensation system that relies on an algorithm to calculate pay based on a number of factors including distance and number of items.

Many shoppers have claimed that the new algorithm has lowered their take-home pay compared to the old system that paid workers based on commissions.

Instacart was also criticized when it changed its tipping policy to apply tips toward overall wages, though the company reversed that policy in February.

Instacart workers went on strike last month to demand better pay, including a higher default tip rate of 10 percent from 5 percent.

In a letter to CEO Apoorva Mehta, the shoppers wrote: “You have demonstrated a pattern of behavior as CEO of eviscerating our pay and pirating our tips. It would cost you, Apoorva, absolutely nothing to restore our previous tip defaults to at least 10%.”

A recent article in The Washington Post profiled Vanessa Bain, a 30-year-old Instacart shopper who has organized a revolt within the company and helped to organize last month’s strike.

“We’re collaborating to really lift each other’s voices up and to build a narrative around worker power that I think our country has severely lacked for a really long time,” Bain said.

A spokesperson for Instacart told the Post that the company is always looking for ways to improve its relationship with its army of shoppers.

“Our relationship with all shoppers is important, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve,” the company spokesperson said. “We realize we will not always agree, but we respect and support the rights of shoppers to voice their opinions.”

The food-delivery service DoorDash has faced similar criticisms over the way it compensates its drivers. The company was recently sued in Washington, D.C. for allegedly skimming tips from its drivers and misleading customers into thinking that their gratuities would end up in drivers’ pockets.

Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash are currently battling a recently passed law in California that would reclassify their drivers as full-time employees, potentially entitling them to benefits and perks. The companies have pledged to spend millions of dollars to fight the law.

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