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Two Days After Its Shoppers Went on Strike, Instacart Eliminated Their Bonuses

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The grocery delivery company says the cut is unrelated to the walk-off, but its workers aren’t convinced

Kaitlin Myers a shopper for Instacart studies her smart phone as she shops for a customer at Whole Foods in Denver. Denver Post Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon

Gig workers who deliver food for app-based companies like DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart have made headlines in recent months, alleging that as the companies have pushed toward profitability, they’ve cut the amount of money that’s gone to the folks who deliver customer orders. Now some of the people who handle orders for San Francisco-based Instacart say that the company is retaliating against their demands for increased pay by eliminating a per-order bonus.

Instacart delivery workers are known as “shoppers” because in addition to delivering orders, they walk the aisles of participating grocery stores to gather the requested items. A group of those shoppers went on strike from November 3-5, an effort that organizers said was intended to cast light on their demands, which included a “default tip” amount of 10 percent per order.

In a Medium post published last month, Menlo Park-based strike organizer/Instacart shopper Vanessa Bain said that when she began working for Instacart in 2016, a default 10 percent tip was added to every order, and that over 80 percent of customers tipped even more. In October of that year, things changed: According to a BuzzFeed report published at the time, the company added an additional 10 percent “service fee” that’s paid directly to Instacart.

A class action lawsuit followed, TechCrunch and many others reported at the time. In addition to a $4.6 million settlement, the company agreed to make the difference between the service fee and a tip more apparent. Since then, the company decreased the “suggested” amount in the tip field from 10 to five percent, a move that Instacart shoppers says has slashed their incomes — while customers have long had the ability to manually raise or lower the tip amount, the inclination is to adhere to the suggested amount. When a lower amount is suggested, workers like Bain say, that’s what they get tipped.

That’s what spurred last week’s strike, Bain said in her October Medium post. But now it appears that there’s a new source of frustration, as last Thursday the company announced that it was eliminating a $3 bonus promised to shoppers for each five-star rating they received from customers.

According to a message from Instacart to shoppers that was shared with Eater SF, “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.” That’s why the company is dropping the bonus as of November 11, an Instacart spokesperson told the Merc, adding that “this change was not a form of retaliation.”

Instacart shoppers disagreed and penned another Medium post on the matter. According to San Francisco Examiner columnist Sasha Perigo, Medium removed the post, allegedly after it was “flagged” by Instacart. The item’s disappearance caught the eye of tech writer and entrepreneur Om Malik, who just last week publicly criticized the business practices of GrubHub, DoorDash, and Instacart. In a post published November 10, he decried the alleged removal, saying “I read the note. There was nothing in there but facts and simple statements of their position... Simply put, this is censorship, Silicon Valley-style.”

The post was later republished on Medium, this time, “without addressing individuals,” and remains online here. In the item, Instacart workers claim that the change was purely retaliatory, and that the company’s “only goal was to hurt us.”

Bain tells the Merc that the loss of the bonus could further cut her already dwindling paychecks. She said that of all her orders, about half generated a five-star review and, therefore, the $3 bonus. “I think the timing is undeniably retaliatory, and believe the motivation for moving forward with it ahead of schedule was to discourage workers from continuing to organize,” Bain told the Merc. “It seems like a pretty clear-cut intimidation tactic.”