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.

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