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A group of Instacart gig workers is requesting that all customers who shop on the platform boycott the grocery delivery app to pressure it to improve conditions for workers. Using the hashtag #DeleteInstacart, workers are trying to pressure the company ahead of a rumored IPO, one of the most highly anticipated of the year. "Continuing to utilize Instacart’s services would only enable its unethical behavior, endorse its continued exploitation of workers, and reward its corporate greed," the collective of Instacart gig workers wrote in an open letter to customers published Monday.
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
Instacart workers on the platform are demanding a reinstatement of a commission based pay model, the reinstatement of 10 percent default tip, a more transparent system for assigning orders to workers, occupational death benefits, and a rating system that does not punish workers for reasons that are beyond their control, such as inventory issues at a grocery store.Until these demands are met, the Instacart gig workers say they'll continue to call for a boycott from customers. According to Gig Workers Collective organizers, Instacart’s gig workers are predominantly women, many of them single moms with childcare responsibilities.“We’re deeply committed to creating the best possible experience for our shopper community,” an Instacart spokesperson told Motherboard about calls for a boycott. “Over the past several years, this unwavering commitment has led us to introduce new features, policies, offerings, and support for shoppers—significantly improving the shopper experience and resulting in the highest shopper sentiment in company history.”In the past, Instacart has told reporters that strikes have had "absolutely no impact" on its bottom line. "On behalf of its aggrieved shoppers, Gig Workers’ Collective calls upon every customer to delete the Instacart app immediately until Instacart meets the 5 demands shoppers have been asking for, as a show of support for the ongoing efforts to end long-standing gig worker exploitation," the collective wrote in an open letter to customers published Monday. "We ask you to take action and delete the app today."
Known as the Gig Workers' Collective, the group of Instacart shoppers across the United States, has, for years, been one of the most vocal critics of Instacart's labor practices—planning strikes, walkouts, and petition drives to demand more from the company as they've seen wages plummet, job markets oversaturate with workers during the pandemic, and a formerly transparent pay model become increasingly opaque. "We are asking customers to delete the app and find something else. I'd like to think people care about each other now more than before the pandemic, and can see that Instacart workers are exploited and put in dangerous and unhealthy and unsafe positions," Robin Pape, an Instacart shopper in Ithaca, New York who is calling for the boycott, told Motherboard.Pape, a single mother and disabled veteran, who signed up to be an Instacart shopper in 2018 for the flexibility it offered her, said she's seen her earnings on the platform fall about 50 percent since she started. Instacart has lowered its default tip amount, changed its assignments system, and stopped paying its workers a 40 cent per item commission order. (The default tip amount is currently 5 percent.)
"We see this as tip conditioning. Research shows people go with the default tip amount because that seems like the fair amount," Pape said. "When they dropped the tip amount from ten to five percent, people started leaving that as the default. There was no good reason for them to change it."During the pandemic, the platform boomed, and hundreds of thousands of Americans signed up to work on Instacart, at one point bringing its workforce to 500,000 shoppers. But as the demand for on-demand grocery delivery as pandemic retreated, Instacart has seen a drop-off in sales and held talks with Uber and DoorDash about a potential merger. Instacart has also been busy fundraising for its IPO, although it also could opt for a direct listing. Karyn Johnson-Dorsey, a retired paralegal, who shops for Instacart in Riverside, California and is calling for the boycott said she's seen her Instacart income fall roughly 30 percent since she began shopping for the grocery delivery platform in 2018.
She mostly blames Instacart for switching to a batch assignment system that pays $7 per batch of up to three grocery orders rather than a guaranteed $10 per order. "My pay has gone down quite a bit. Instacart has learned the art of doubling and tripling orders and bunching them together, so that less desirable orders get combined," Johnson-Dorsey, who is 57, said. "The only way Instacart is going to listen or see the power of us is by their consumers removing the app. We’ve tried to speak with them and it hasn't worked."Instacart gig workers are also calling for occupational death benefits, as reports of assaults, murders, carjackings, and attacks targeting gig workers have soared during the pandemic. In March, Lynn Murray, an Instacart shopper was killed in a mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. As independent contractors, Instacart shoppers do not receive life insurance, healthcare, worker’s compensation, paid time off, or sick days. "We need occupational death benefits. A lot of people are single moms and single fathers or are retired and shop on Instacart to make up for what Social Security doesn’t cover. It fills the gap for a lot of people," said Pape. "I support two kids. If something happened to me or to them, there would be a lot of people who were struggling and not getting their needs met anymore."
Workers asking consumers to boycott their source of income is a notable escalation, but Instacart's gig workers who have been organizing since 2017 to improve their working conditions say the company has continued to refuse to listen to their demands. For them, asking customers to delete the app is a last resort option. "Asking you to delete the Instacart app in the midst of a pandemic is not something we take lightly. We understand that, for some of you, this will be a significant sacrifice. But we have spent the past five years fighting for better working conditions and firmly believe we have exhausted all less drastic options," the workers wrote. In July, Instacart hired a new CEO Fidji Simo, a former Facebook executive. A spokesperson for Instacart said that Simo has consistently been reading and responding to emails from Instacart gig workers in order to improve their experience on the platform.But workers who are demanding a boycott say they’ve been ignored or received canned responses from Simo, and that she did not respond to an open letter the group wrote to her in August voicing their demands."People have gotten used to the convenience," Pape said. "But if you’re using low paid workers to get this luxury convenience, you should realize how our pay has been knocked down and we don't have any of the same protections as employees, and you should demand the company do better."