Instacart Shoppers Will Stage Nationwide Strike

On October 16, a group of Instacart's gig workers will log off the grocery delivery app until the company agrees to a series of demands that would result in higher pay.
September 30, 2021, 1:00pm
Grocery cart.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

A group of Instacart shoppers is calling for a nationwide work stoppage on the grocery delivery app starting on October 16 until the company agrees to a series of demands that would result in higher pay for shoppers.

The strike is an escalation of a call made by the same group for customers to boycott Instacart, which workers say has repeatedly ignored their demands. 

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"We know that in order for us to see change, we need to hit Instacart where it hurts," said Willy Solis, a member of the Gig Workers Collective, a grassroots gig worker's organization that is organizing the strike. "We're organizing the walk-off because the company continues to ignore us. Our goal is to get Instacart to engage with us."

The customer boycott and the worker-led strike center around the same set of five demands: 

  • base pay for each order instead of the current system, which pays workers as low as $7 for batches of up to three orders
  • a return to a commission-based pay model. Instacart previously paid shoppers 40 cents per item shopped
  • reinstatement of the 10 percent default tip (it's currently 5 percent)
  • occupational death benefits for workers who die on the job
  • a rating system that doesn't punish workers for low customer ratings that are beyond their control, such as inventory issues at the grocery store 

The group is asking gig workers who cannot afford to log off the app to decline $7 batches in protest of the low pay. (Batches can include up to three separate grocery delivery orders for as low as $7 in compensation.)

A spokesperson for Instacart told Motherboard, “We take shopper feedback very seriously and remain dedicated to listening and learning from our community to improve the Instacart shopper experience. While historically the actions by this group have not resulted in any disruption or impact to our service, our relationship with all shoppers is incredibly important and we’re deeply committed to doing right by them. Based on the ongoing investments we've made to support shoppers, these claims do not reflect the current shopper experience, and in some cases, the demands are for offerings that already exist on the platform. Instacart’s dedicated teams consistently engage with active shoppers through a variety of channels and forums to gather feedback and incorporate it into the Instacart shopper experience.”

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The spokesperson noted that Instacart has offered shopper injury protection which applies to all of its gig workers in the United States, including for accidental death benefits.

In the past the company has stated that worker-led strikes on its platform have had no impact on business. 

Instacart has stated that its new CEO Fidji Simo has kept an open line for Instacart gig workers to email her about their concerns.

But striking workers say they’ve been ignored or received generic emails from Simo, and that she has not responded to a letter the group wrote to her in August voicing their concerns.

This spring, Instacart's value doubled to $39 billion, after a round of fundraising, but as demand for grocery delivery services has tanked, as Instacart has also seen a drop-off in sales as the pandemic-demand for grocery delivery has receded. In recent months, Instacart has held talks with Uber and DoorDash about a potential merger, and has been busy fundraising for its IPO, although it could opt for a direct listing and forgo raising money through a stock sale. 

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Meanwhile, Instacart shoppers say they've continued to see their pay drop, arbitrary deactivations rise, and had their ratings (which impact their ability to get good-paying orders) lowered due to supply chain shortages.

"Some places are fine, but where I'm at I've seen my pay drop by 70 percent since 2017," Kelly Harris, an Instacart shopper in Steubenville, Ohio who will participate in the strike, told Motherboard. "[I'm in a] very rural and red part of the state. Instacart has people tipping five percent and they think that's fine but it's really not. We're the frontline of their company. They should appreciate us a little more." 

After each delivery, customers have the opportunity to rate gig workers on a scale from one to five stars. A couple of four star ratings from a customer can tank a gig worker's likelihood of being offered lucrative orders on the app for weeks, multiple workers told Motherboard. (Instacart drops the lowest rating out of every 100 deliveries from shoppers’ ratings.)

"Shoppers are being unfairly rated by customers for things that are out of their control such as distribution problems," said Jen, an Instacart shopper and the host of a popular YouTube channel, called Jen-On-The-Go. The channel started off as a guide to earning money on Instacart, and has more recently become focused on Instacart shoppers' grievances. (Jen asked to be identified by her first name only because she feared retaliation from Instacart.) 

"Through my channel, I realized that shoppers were getting wrongly deactivated, tip baited, and punished for ratings that aren't their fault," she said.

As independent contractors, Instacart shoppers do not receive life insurance, healthcare, worker’s compensation, paid time off, or have the right to join unions. Amid a rise in attacks targeting gig workers during the pandemic, including the murder of Instacart shopper Lynn Murray in Colorado in March, Instacart gig workers launched a campaign for occupational death benefits. 

Jen told Motherboard she will be participating in the strike on October 16, and promoting it on her channel. "I’m sick and tired of seeing honest and hardworking shoppers being penalized, accused, and punished by Instacart," Jen continued. "We’re just trying to get Instacart to pay attention."