Gig workers on Target’s delivery platform, Shipt, are organizing a walkout on Tuesday to protest the lack of safeguards in place to protect them during the coronavirus pandemic—the first worker-organized action against the gig economy giant.
Workers are demanding $5 of hazard pay per order, 14 days of paid sick leave for all workers regardless of whether they’ve received a positive coronavirus test, personal protective gear for all gig workers, and a return to a clear, commission-based pay model. Organizers are also asking customers to boycott the app on Friday, April 10 in solidarity with Shipt workers.
The action marks the first time gig workers at the Birmingham, Alabama-based company—which boasts more than 100,000 gig workers nationwide and is hiring at least 10,000 more in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic—have staged a collective protest against the company since its founding in 2014. As previously reported by Motherboard, the app has been known to censor and retaliate against its workers online.
“Shipt has put band-aids on everything instead of fixing the root causes of our problems,” Willy Solis, a lead organizer of the Shipt walkout and a gig worker in the Dallas area, told Motherboard. “Rather than fix those issues, they’re figuring out ways to lower our pay and get more shoppers on more orders as quickly as possible. I have had pneumonia six times in my life and I can tell you that it’s a very difficult situation for me to be a Shipt shopper right now.”
Shipt has offered two weeks of paid sick leave to workers who are able to provide the positive results of a coronavirus test or are placed under quarantine by a public health authority like the CDC (A doctor’s note does not suffice.) Workers say providing this assistance is meaningless as it is difficult to obtain tests (and some cities have all-but-stopped testing for many patients altogether), and it does not account for its senior and immunocompromised workers on the platform who face higher risks of contracting the virus.
"We are so proud of our shopper community and how they’ve responded to the increase in demand and the opportunity to serve their communities," a spokesperson for Shipt told Motherboard. "We are focused on supporting them during this time with health and safety precautions, protective equipment and financial assistance. Our shoppers have been delivering record volumes to our customers, and they continue to schedule themselves to shop commensurate with what we’ve seen throughout the pandemic."
On Friday, facing uproar from workers, Shipt sent an email announcing that it would begin to provide face masks and gloves to all workers within the next two weeks, as well as a kit with hand sanitizer and gloves to shoppers in high risk areas and those who have worked the most during pandemic. The leaders of the walkout say that this limited supply should have been made available to all shoppers weeks ago.
In that same email, Shipt also clarified that the elimination of pay on cancelled orders, announced in late March, would be partially reversed.
“As a Shipt Shopper, your safety and well‑being is our utmost priority,” the company wrote in the email announcing the new safety gear. “We appreciate you, and will continue to monitor and address your needs as the situation progresses.”
If anything sets Shipt apart from its peers, it’s its cheery, friendly marketing style paired with what some shoppers describe as a culture of censorship and fear on the company’s Facebook group, the Shopper Lounge. Shipt encourages its gig workers to go above and beyond by tacking on gifts like thank you cards, flowers, and balloons onto customers orders (paid out of their own pockets), calling this kind of service “Bringing the Magic,” which can improve shopper ratings that determine whether they receive the most lucrative orders. Meanwhile, on its company-sponsored Facebook group, which has more than 100,000 members, Shipt is known to censor and ban workers who express the slightest dissent or ask basic questions about their working conditions.
Solis says that this censorship online could make it difficult to inform workers of the walkout, but that a number of alternative private Shipt Facebook groups like the Shipt List, will serve as important organizing tools.
Christina James, a Shipt gig worker in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has interstitial cystitis with hunner's lesions, a painful bladder syndrome, which also means her immune system is compromised, but has no choice to work throughout the pandemic to support her children.
“If they cared about our health, they would let us provide a doctor’s note, saying we couldn’t work,” James told Motherboard. “I have had to buy my own gloves, hand wipes, and hand sanitizer. I feel like we’re undervalued. Shipt says they care about us and put our safety first, but that’s a bunch of bull.”
On March 24, James sent an email to Shipt asking if she could qualify for coronavirus pay because she works in a coronavirus hotspot and is at high risk for contracting the virus. But the company has yet to respond. James says she will strike on Tuesday.
“I have an auto-immune disorder that causes me a lot of pain, but I need the income to stay afloat with everything,” James said. “I have two kids and my husband. Our bills are still due.”
The protections provided by Shipt to its gig workers mirrors those provided by other gig companies like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart. So far, all of the major gig economy companies have refused to provide their workers, who are independent contractors and lack basic labor protections, with paid sick leave during the pandemic.
One of the most important demands of the walkout, workers say, is to halt the transition to a new pay structure that workers say has brought down their earnings. Following in the path of its peers like Instacart, Shipt began the switch from a clear, commission-based pay model to an opaque algorithmic one last year, which weighs a number of factors like distance travelled and time spent shopping. Shipt previously told Motherboard that wages have remained the same if not increased. But Motherboard spoke to workers in Kalamazoo, Michigan who say that with the new model, they’ve seen their wages drop by 40 to 50 percent.
“There are many Shipt shoppers who fit into the higher risk category,” a Shipt shopper in Fort Worth, Texas, who has rheumatoid arthritis and wished to remain anonymous because he feared retaliation, told Motherboard. The worker said he decided two weeks ago to quit working for Shipt while the worst of the pandemic passes through or until Shipt makes some changes, though it means that he and his wife can barely pay for rent and medication bills right now.
“I’m hoping this walk out creates some positive change,” he continued. “I hope they’ll realize they're putting people’s lives at risk, and provide masks, gloves, sanitizer and hazard pay for everyone who needs it.”
Do you work for Shipt or another gig economy company and have a story to share about your working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic? Are you organizing an action at your company? Please reach out to Lauren Gurley at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal 201-897-2109.
Shipt walkout organizers are also calling for a more transparent and easy tipping process, as customers have reported difficulties tipping their shoppers in recent days, and asking that the Shipt reinstate its orientation process for new workers during its current hiring spree.
Shipt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.