DoorDash delivery drivers in a Facebook group with more than 26,000 members are working together to decline low-paying orders, a move they say is significantly driving up their average pay per order.
Over the past few years, DoorDash drivers have adopted a wide variety of strategies to earn a living on the platform. Some drivers simply accept every order while others evaluate strictly on a per-mile basis. One group may refuse to take trips with no tip, while others hew to strategies that refuse orders below a certain minimum, trips that can’t satisfy a certain level of expenses, or pursue a combination of multiple selective criteria to increase pay themselves.
The #DeclineNow strategy is aimed at pushing base pay for drivers up by collectively gaming the DoorDash app’s algorithm by exercising their right to choose which deliveries to accept on the platform.
“The fundamental principles of the official #DECLINENOW movement rely upon all drivers in the movement to exercise their right to use the decline button to decline lowball offers for higher, more feasible ones,” reads a pinned post on the main Facebook group.
“Declining lowball offers forces the algorithm to raise the base pay UP on the declined offer for the next driver as the need for DoorDash to service the order increases. In turn, Dashers will see an increase in higher paying offers, many times doing less deliveries for more money and a much higher paying ‘Per mile rate.’”
The #DeclineNow strategy has a couple of moving parts. One part involves a relatively simple Android-only application called Drivers Utility Helper created by Middleton Technologies that helps automate some of the mental calculations and guesses necessary to make a call on whether some order is worth accepting or not. Another part involves the DoorDash platform itself, and cheap Android phones.
DoorDash guarantees to pay at least half of an order total if a driver shows up and it's cancelled, but it doesn’t actually show the full total in order to avoid paying more in the event of a cancellation. As a result, there’s often what drivers refer to as a “hidden tip” where you may accept an order for $13, for example, but upon completion see you were paid $20 with a note reading "Total is higher than the $13 shown on acceptance."
To see this “hidden tip” before accepting a delivery, drivers use an old version of the DoorDash app on Android and their main phone’s internet hotspot. Once a driver obtains an old version of the app and loads it onto their phone, they must go through a complex sequence every time they use the app. First, they must disable Google Play, open the app and sign in, and re-enable Google Play. Then, they can use the home screen app widget to access a screen that reveals the full order total, including any hidden tips.
With the information provided through this method, #DeclineNow drivers say they are in a better position to selectively accept orders and ensure they earn the most amount of money while reducing the number of expenses they’re responsible for thanks to misclassification (e.g. vehicle maintenance, taxes, healthcare).
DoorDash has seemingly acknowledged the reality that drivers try to get as much out of the app as they can in its own emails to Dashers. In a November 2019 email announcing to drivers that it was introducing a "new pay model rollout" that would stop stealing driver tips, the company stated that it would only display minimum earnings for each delivery on the acceptance screen (versus the total) “to promote fairness across the platform and ensure that more Dashers have opportunities to receive high value deliveries.”
Since rolling out its new pay model in 2019, drivers have pointed out that selectively choosing orders was how they survived and named these changes as clear attempts to undermine selective choosing of orders.
“When placing an order, customers select their tip amount,” a DoorDash spokesperson said in a statement. “Before accepting or declining an order, Dashers see a guaranteed, minimum amount they will earn, and after they complete an order, they see the full pay breakdown for that delivery in their app, including base pay, promotions, and 100% of their tips. We are proud of the flexible earning opportunity DoorDash provides and always welcome feedback from Dashers on ways we can better serve them.”
There are, however, those who take issue with elements of the #DeclineNow strategy. An analysis by gig worker Amy Lee, who runs a blog named Pavement Grinders, collects and summarizes the major concerns with the #DeclineNow strategy, centering mainly on whether it is as universal as it claims.
Lee points out that #DeclineNow factors in the IRS standard deduction of 57.5 cents per mile when setting rates, but not everyone has the same fuel and maintenance costs. Different markets also have different rates and order expectations, and as a result, "being expected to follow the same rules across the board, no matter your cost of living or number of orders available, makes little sense." One of the #DeclineNow strategy’s core rules, for example, is to refuse every order below a $7 minimum.
“So my understanding is that the $7 minimum is sort of a universal wage floor of sorts. People are also encouraged to establish their own standards that might be higher, and adjust standards according to the parameters of an order,” one driver in the Facebook group told Motherboard. “A $7 order that is two miles might be acceptable, while a $7 order that is 10 miles would probably fall under acceptable thresholds.”
According to Lee, these concerns aside, selectively declining orders simply works.
In her blog, she shares results from an experiment carried out by a Facebook page of drivers where one group selectively declined orders while another accepted every order offered by DoorDash.
The results were stark: drivers who accepted everything on average earned 68 cents per mile and a gross hourly wage of $12.41 for a little over 9 hours; drivers who selectively declined orders earned $1.26 per mile, earning a gross hourly wage of $21.15 for just over 9 hours of work. For drivers who accept every order, this sub-minimum rate is despite likely qualifying for the "Top Dasher" program where accepting over 70 percent of orders, completing at least 95 percent of orders, and other criteria give drivers rewards such as the ability to work even during high-demand times when the app limits the number of drivers and prioritization for new orders.
Lee has advocated in an open letter to DoorDash her own suggestions and remedies for making delivery work more livable and sustainable for herself and other drivers. She says that Uber's pay structure, which considers time and mileage to be adopted (a flat guaranteed rate that is built on by the ride itself), and a tipping system similar to Grubhub's that defaults to a higher amount for drivers, more meaningful rewards for drivers who try to become Top Dashers by accepting nearly every order, and an overhaul of the ratings system to prioritize feedback and improvement instead of discipline and punishment.
The point at the core of the #DeclineNow movement is: DoorDash's pay model is insufficient, so drivers have to spend a significant amount of time experimenting with and learning new methods to augment it so that they can actually earn money.
This tension between DoorDash’s need for profit at any cost and DoorDash’s drivers as workers who are consistently underpaid is not going anywhere. The gig economy’s fundamental business model is incompatible with adequately providing for workers who are viewed as a labor cost that must be minimized on the path to profitability, leaving drivers to fend for themselves and craft strategies to put food on the table.