Days after the conclusion of a workers’ strike, grocery startup Instacart says it’s making some changes. But it’s not agreeing to the strikers’ demands—it’s eliminating a bonus workers make on successful deliveries.
Instacart workers went on strike from Nov. 3-5 to protest what they described as worsening pay. The gig-based workers, whom Instacart does not classify as employees, shop for and deliver customers’ groceries and receive payment and tips via an app. Those tips are lower than they used to be, after Instacart lowered the default tip to 5 percent of the order, workers say. Their strike this week aimed to return the default tip to 10 percent.
Not only did Instacart not make the change, but on Thursday it eliminated another income source: a $3 “quality bonus” awarded to shoppers every time customers gave them a five-star rating. For Instacart workers, who don’t earn an hourly wage, that could be a deep cut.
“We are being skinned,” Adam Waldorf, an Atlanta Instacart shopper told The Daily Beast.
On Thursday, he and all other Instacart shoppers received a message from the company.
“Dear shopper,” the message read. “Over the last several years, we’ve experimented with numerous versions of the quality bonus, in addition to other boosts and incentives.
“During the last year, we offered a new version of the quality bonus and found that it did not meaningfully improve quality. As a result, we will no longer be offering the quality bonus beginning next week. We value the quality of service shoppers provide and will continue exploring ways to recognize shoppers who deliver a high-quality experience for customers.”
An Instacart spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the company would continue offering other programs designed to “cultivate exceptional customer service,” like optional shopping tips and a system that gives highly rated shoppers first pick of available grocery orders. The spokesperson said those workers could earn more by selecting the most lucrative batches.
But that program leaves workers competing for the best batches, splitting the earnings between themselves, rather than receiving an automatic $3 bonus for a five-star delivery.
In its message to workers, Instacart stated that “this change will not impact earnings structure and minimums we committed to earlier this year.” Instacart guarantees a minimum of $7 to $10 payout on each order, depending where workers live. But when workers account for shopping and delivery time (not to mention gas costs), that minimum can leave them earning less than the hourly minimum wage.
Full-time Instacart workers like Waldorf said the $3 bonus adds up.
“This basically eliminates $40-$50 a week from my compensation,” he said. “I work Instacart full time and make between $400 and $500 a week since the pay structure was changed and a default 5 percent tip was added. This has dipped from $500 to $700 a week when I started in February 2018. Now doing the same amount of work will likely make me $350 to $450 a week.”
Sarah Clarke, a Silicon Valley-based Instacart shopper who helped organize this week’s strike, noted that losing $3 from a $7 order would amount to a 42 percent pay cut. (Not all orders pay as little as $7, and not all received the $3 bonus.)
Clarke said Instacart’s claims about worker pay were “bullshit … They worded it as if it’s not going to affect our pay structure, but it does.” She and others accused Instacart of retaliating against strikers—a claim the company denies. An Instacart spokesperson said the company regularly adjusts its pay system, and chose to end the quality bonuses after testing them for approximately a year.
Not all Instacart workers believe the company line. On Friday, a coalition of Instacart shoppers published an open letter calling the bonus elimination “clearly a retaliatory act. The company has made its intentions known—they do not seek to work with us or even attempt to compromise. This is corporate cruelty, plain and simple, with no other explanation. Their only goal was to hurt us.”
Although Instacart has not acceded to the striking workers’ one demand (that the app go back to recommending a 10 percent tip instead of 5 percent), a company spokesperson said Instacart was taking a look at workers’ request.
But Clarke said she believes the bonus loss was a message to workers. In the past, the company has eliminated perks but replaced them with other incentives.
“This is the first time they’ve ever been like, ‘We’re taking away something. Bye!’” she said. “What I think they’re trying to do is discourage us from protesting more.”