On July 31, gig workers on the food delivery app DoorDash will refuse to work for the day in what appears to be the first coordinated strike in DoorDash history.
Gig workers are demanding that the platform show them their tips before they agree to deliver an order and institute a base pay of at least $4.50 per order. (Base pay is the amount drivers earn on an order before tips. Thanks to recent pay cuts, many drivers earn as little as $2.00 before tips).
"NO DASHER = NO DELIVERIES = MASSIVE LOSS FOR DOORDASH," a post about the strike circulating on Reddit says.
The strike isn't affiliated with any organization, but hundreds of Dashers on Reddit and Facebook have discussed the strike in recent days, and circulated a graphic and list of demands. Motherboard heard from seven drivers who plan to strike, and many more have stated they will participate because they've seen their base pay drop and want to be able to see their tips before they accept orders.
"I'm striking because they lowered the base pay from $3 to $2.50 here, and with gas increases, it’s hard to make any money," a driver in Overland Park, Kansas told Motherboard. "Without tips we’re not making anything."
The call for a DoorDash strike occurs under peculiar circumstances. In early July, DoorDash rewrote its own code to cut off Para, a third-party app that allowed gig workers to see their tip amounts before they accepted a delivery order. Developed by a former operations and logistics manager at Uber, Para revealed tip information that's included in DoorDash's code but is not surfaced for delivery drivers.
Drivers would log in to both apps at once, providing Para with their DoorDash login credentials. When DoorDash offered drivers a delivery order, a notification from the Para app would drop down informing drivers of the tip amount associated with that order. (Without Para, DoorDash only shows drivers the estimated amount on their earnings before they complete the delivery.) UberEats also hides the tip amount from drivers, but Para was unable to find tip amounts in their code.
Overnight, the Para app blew up. As of July 24, it has been downloaded roughly 200,000 times in Apple's App Store and 50,000 times in the Google Play store, according to a screenshot provided by a Para employee. Para currently sits at #40 among business apps in the App Store. In hundreds of reviews online, DoorDash gig workers praise Para for allowing them to access their tips.
"I love this app," one Dasher wrote in May. "It shows you up front how much you will be making so it takes the guesswork out of gambling on longer mileage trips. It's helped me make more money and it's amazing."
But in mid-July, Para stopped working. Bridgit, a DoorDash driver in Tom's River, New Jersey with three kids, signed up for DoorDash in March, specifically because she expected to be able to see her tip amount before accepting an order using the Para app. "I read some forums and everyone was talking about Para."
She told Motherboard that she's striking on July 31 because of losing the tip transparency offered on Para. "I would say a lot of workers woke up when Para stopped working," she said. "Para showed that DoorDash is not as transparent as it could be. I think it's ridiculous that DoorDash hides tips for orders. It's very common to get no tips."
While some drivers are being propelled to strike after losing the tip transparency offered by Para, others are mostly motivated by DoorDash's poor base pay. Base pay ranges on orders ranges from $2 to $20, according to DoorDash, but drivers say pay is often on the lower end. In February, DoorDash drivers launched a protest campaign called #DECLINENOW to game DoorDash's algorithm and push up base pay by declining orders under $5. DoorDash has been accused of rampant tip theft, data breaches, sub-minimum wage pay.
“DoorDash is proud to provide flexible, low-barrier earning opportunities for Dashers while helping restaurants grow their businesses. On average nationally, Dashers work fewer than four hours a week and earn over $25 an hour while they’re on a delivery, including 100 percent of their tips," a spokeswoman from DoorDash told Motherboard, in response to news of the strike.
Across the board, the gig economy is notorious for using 'blackbox algorithms' that keep crucial information about wages, tips, and orders hidden from gig workers, often to the disadvantage of workers. Under DoorDash's current model, workers have no way to know whether an order has 50 cents or a $50 tip attached, even though DoorDash is aware when it assigns that order.
Drivers say this creates hardship because the vast majority of their earnings come from tips, and they're often forced to gamble that orders that require driving 20 miles will have a worthwhile tip. Accepting an order without knowing the tip beforehand can result in negative earnings after accounting for the cost of gas, drivers say. Many customers literally tip pennies, or nothing at all.
On the other end of the spectrum, DoorDash drivers also say that Para allowed drivers to take advantage of so-called "unicorns," orders with giant tips that are sometimes 300 percent of the base pay. In other words, a driver might decline a $15 dollar order because they expect a $2 tip, without realizing that there's a $50 tip attached.
"Para stopped working, and that's definitely influenced my decision to strike," said Miranda Ashley, a DoorDash driver in Highland Village/Flower Mound, Texas. "I believe DoorDash should be 100% transparent with the full payouts, as it directly affects whether or not we will accept an order. When DD hides tip information, it only causes Dashers to decline orders and customers to have much longer wait times, and possibly even cold food."
A spokesperson for DoorDash told Motherboard that Para violated its terms of service, but did not respond to a question about rewriting its code. "Para collects its information by scraping content without authorization from the DoorDash platform. This is deeply concerning as we are committed to protecting the privacy and data security of every side of our marketplace and stakeholders," they said.
DoorDash's terms of service say, "You will use the Software and Services only for your own use and will not directly or indirectly resell, license or transfer the Software, Services or content displayed by the Services to a third party.”
“In a matter of months, nearly 200,000 DoorDash drivers signed up for Para in order to understand their full earning potential before accepting trips," Para founders David Pickerell and Jeffrey Tang told Motherboard in a statement. "The very people whose labor DoorDash depends on are demanding more transparency, as well as the autonomy to make decisions about what kind of work they accept from these gig platforms. We hope DoorDash will do the right thing here, and provide drivers with the tools they need to make informed decisions about their work and livelihoods.”
Steve Johnson, another Para employee and a DoorDash driver in Denver, Colorado, told Motherboard that in mid-July, DoorDash rewrote its software, effectively cutting out Para.
Johnson believes that as independent contractors, DoorDash's drivers should have access to full tip amounts with every order, and the freedom to use any tools at their disposal to increase their earnings. "We were trying to make it so that you have the information to decide if you want to accept an order," Steve Johnson, the Para employee, said. "That’s our right as independent contractors. They’re supposed to allow us full transparency."
Johnson says that by effectively cutting out Para and rewriting their code, DoorDash is contradicting itself by denying its gig workers the independent contractor rights that the company has advertised. Last year, DoorDash, Uber, Lyft, and Instacart spent $204 million fighting to keep their gig workers classified as independent contractors in California.
It's hard for strikes in the gig economy to actually hurt a company's bottom line, because gig workers are socially isolated, spread out across the country, and cannot form unions. Instacart has previously claimed that a nationwide strike led by its workers in March 2020 had "absolutely no impact." Some DoorDash gig workers say they'll be working through the strike on Saturday because they don't think the strike has enough buy-in from workers to harm DoorDash.