Striking Bay Area Instacart shoppers demanding tip increase
If you’re looking to get your weekly groceries delivered today, you might be forced to shop the old fashioned way instead.
Bay Area Instacart delivery people, who the company calls "shoppers," are on strike in an effort to push the company to raise the default tip on the app to 10 percent, up from the current five percent.
The San Francisco-based company sets the default tip amount as a percentage of the order total, with a minimum of $2, which a customer can raise or lower at their discretion.
Striking shoppers are also asking the company to eliminate the service fee associated with an order, claiming customers can be confused as to where each additional charge ends up.
An Instacart shopper since 2016, Menlo Park’s Vanessa Bain organized the protest, citing a decrease in her take-home pay of up to 60 percent since then.
“It was fundamentally a different job back [in 2016] and was very worth doing,” Bain said. “Many of the veterans of our organizing group have a frame of reference of what Instacart is capable of being like, which is one of the reasons we’re fighting so hard to get back to that point.”
Bain said the 10 percent tip amount was not chosen at random—that’s what the default tip amount was in 2016. She alleges that Instacart has been steadily conditioning customers to tip their shoppers less and less with changes to the app. She said that in 2016, more than 80 percent of her customers left tips of 10 percent or more.
While Bain said she didn’t know the exact number of people protesting across the country, she said they’ve done most of their organizing on social media, noting a particularly strong Facebook group. At publication, the group had more than 14,000 members, which would account for about 10 percent of the Instacart shopper workforce. (Instacart estimates they have about 130,000 shoppers nationally.)
When reached via email on Monday, Instacart provided this statement, “We take the feedback of the shopper community very seriously and remain committed to listening to and using that feedback to improve their experience.”
This isn’t the first round of organizing for Instacart shoppers. In a letter published Friday on Medium to company CEO Apoorva Mehta, Bain details issues with the company over the years, including pay cuts and lack of pay formula transparency. “[Instacart has] a corporate philosophy of ‘la la la we can’t hear you’ when it comes to their shoppers,” Bain said. “Instacart has never responded directly to something we’ve done. All of their changes have been in a much more indirect way.”
In 2017, Instacart settled a class-action lawsuit by shoppers over alleged wrongdoings concerning tips, expense reimbursements and the misrepresentation of a service fee. In 2018, Mehta publicly apologized when the company withheld shoppers’ tips allegedly by accident.
“This walk-off is a kick-off to another round of organizing,” Bain said. “AB5 and legislation like it is largely framed as the ‘bill to regulate gig work,’ but the future of work itself is at stake right now. If all you have to do is hire someone through an app and you’re exempt from all existing labor law, that’s a slippery slope.”
Instacart shoppers are currently considered contractors by the company, which will change in California when AB5 goes into effect on Jan. 1.
The protest is scheduled to last through Nov. 5.
Tessa McLean is a digital editor with SFGATE. Email her at [email protected]