Protocol | Workplace

‘Not unless someone is going to pay my bills': Why the Instacart strike is an uphill battle

Instacart activists want a nationwide strike to start today, but many workers are too afraid of the company and feel they can't afford a day off of work.

​Gig workers protest in front of an Amazon facility in 2020

Gig workers protest in front of an Amazon facility in 2020.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Starting today, an Instacart organizing group is asking the app's gig workers to go on a nationwide strike to demand better payment structures, benefits and other changes to the way the company treats its workers — but if past strikes are any indication, most Instacart users probably won't even notice.

The majority of Instacart workers on forums like Reddit and Facebook appear either unaware of the planned strike or don't plan to participate because they are skeptical of its power, afraid of retaliation from the company or are too reliant on what they do make from the app to be able to afford to take even one day off of the platform. "Not unless someone is going to pay my bills," "It will never work, you will never be able to get every shopper to organize" and "Last time there was a 'strike' Instacart took away our quality bonus pay," are just a few of the comments Instacart shoppers have left in response to news of the strike.

While Willy Solis, one of the organizers for Gig Workers Collective, said that the Instacart boycotts and actions in the past have forced the company to provide COVID-related benefits and caused real impact on worker conditions, Instacart said that "historically the actions by this group have not resulted in any disruption or impact to our service."

Gig Workers Collective has organized several Instacart strikes and boycotts over the last couple of years. The same group also organizes workers at other gig companies like Shipt; gig workers cannot legally form unions, so informal groups like Gig Workers Collective act as the equivalent for these companies.

The strike leaders are asking that Instacart workers boycott the app until a list of demands are met, including a raise in lowest-possible pay for an Instacart delivery ($7), the return of commission-based pricing for each order (rather than the current algorithmic determination of pay), proactive death benefits, reinstatement of a 10% default tip and an improved ratings system to protect workers from issues with store inventory or other problems with the order that are outside their control.

Instacart told Protocol that it believes these demands are outdated and do not reflect the current iteration of the app and its payment model. "In some cases, the demands are for offerings that already exist on the platform. Instacart's dedicated teams consistently engage with active shoppers through a variety of channels and forums to gather feedback and incorporate it into the Instacart shopper experience," the spokesperson wrote.

Solis called their statement "the standard PR line to make themselves sound good." While Instacart said it has adapted the app to meet worker concerns, Solis said those changes — especially the adoption of algorithmic pricing, rather than commission-based pricing — have actually made the pay worse for workers. "The reality is that we face issues that they are not willing to address," Solis said. "The demands we've put forth are very reasonable demands."

Solis said that while it's difficult to estimate how many workers will participate in the strike, he believes that the strike could have the power for real change, that he has observed wide interest from a diverse group of Instacart workers and that even Instacart workers in Canada are beginning to get involved in the movement. The strike organizers are also asking that workers who feel they can't afford the day off refuse any "batches" of orders that would pay the $7 floor.

While many workers are skeptical of the strike, most of them appear to still believe in the demands of the movement. Some of the same people who expressed their skepticism have also voiced their exhaustion and frustration with the way the app's payment system is designed.

"The workers are interested in the changes. They are looking for substantive change and difference. It's standard and normal for workers to be afraid of retaliation, and that is the general pushback that we're getting from them, that they feel like if they participate or speak out, they are going to be targeted by Instacart," Solis said.

Protocol | Workplace

CTO to CEO: The case for putting the tech expert in charge

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Photo: Twitter

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Michelle Ma

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Protocol | Workplace

Google contractor says she was fired for 'ungoogley' behavior

According to a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board, "ungoogley" is Google's term for having a bad attitude.

A contractor at Google staffing firm Modis claims she was fired from her job after asking about pay.

Photo: Future Publishing/Getty Images

A contractor at Google staffing firm Modis claims she was fired from her job for "ungoogley" behavior after asking about holiday pay at a meeting with management, according to a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board by a lawyer for the Alphabet Workers Union.

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Anna Kramer

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Protocol | Policy

Biden FCC nominee Sohn is walking a tightrope with Republicans

Gigi Sohn faces plenty of GOP opposition, but the longtime net-neutrality advocate is hoping to pick up a little Republican support as she deals with Democrats’ narrow margins.

Gigi Sohn’s work for net neutrality has become an issue in her confirmation hearings for the FCC.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Gigi Sohn wouldn’t mind getting support from a Republican or two, and it’d certainly make her path back to the Federal Communications Commission easier.

During her Senate Commerce Committee confirmation on Wednesday, Sohn, a progressive favorite and longtime net-neutrality advocate, touted her commitment to ensuring a diversity of voices on the airwaves, her past fights for small conservative networks she personally disagrees with and her habit of socializing with those she battles on policy.

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Ben Brody

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Protocol | Workplace

Microsoft Teams is going after small businesses

Microsoft Teams Essentials offers longer, bigger meetings for a relatively small price tag.

Companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams.

Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Microsoft announced Wednesday that companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams — one of its most important products and a major player in work messaging and video chat, alongside Slack and Zoom. The product, called Microsoft Teams Essentials, aims to give small or medium-sized businesses a communication hub that costs less than its competitors'.

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