Gig Workers Collective
6 min readDec 9, 2021

Protest @ Instacart’s San Francisco HQ!

Last month, we held a walk-off calling upon Instacart’s customers to delete Instacart and refuse to utilize Instacart until our very reasonable demands are met.

To recap our demands:

Instacart shoppers must be paid $7 per order, and not per batch. In 2019, when Apoorva Mehta publicly apologized for supplementing pay with tips in response to our protests, the company lowered the base pay floor from $10 to $7. But that’s not even the worst part — that $7 figure could cover up to three orders at once. If we shopped a single order, the base pay would be $7, but if we shopped three orders at once, the base pay would be $7 for the lot. Instead of a shopper fulfilling three orders for a total of $30 base, we now do it for a $7 base. This is effectively a 76% cut to base pay and is unacceptable.

Instacart must re-introduce item commission. When Instacart lowered our base pay, it also removed item commission. The $7 base pay was supposed to be a floor that would raise depending on the size of the order. However, nearly every order now pays $7 regardless of the size. A single two-item order pays $7, and a triple 50 item order pays $7. Item commission ensures that workers are paid for their time, since the more items that are in the order, the longer it takes to fill.

Instacart’s rating system can no longer unfairly punish shoppers for issues outside their control. For example, the company has an issue with customer fraud that is unfairly impacting workers. Instacart’s lacking fraud detection ability and policies make it very easy for customers to get free groceries by falsely marking items as missing/damaged, with the blame constantly falling on the shopper. Even when we provide photos of deliveries, Instacart can either lower our rating (which prevents us from seeing good offers for weeks), or deactivate us from the platform entirely. A single 4-star rating is enough to affect our pay for weeks. Instacart’s inability to properly investigate customer complaints should not result in blame unfairly placed on shoppers.

Instacart shoppers need occupational death benefits. Working for Instacart is not safe, and workers must be protected on the job. The last 18 months have been especially dangerous for Instacart shoppers. The company refused to provide sick pay for shoppers who tested positive for COVID, even when one shopper was on a ventilator. We had to walk off the job in order for Instacart to address this and change its policy. Coronavirus aside, shopper Lynn Murray was killed while shopping for a customer during a mass shooting. While Instacart’s corporate employees spent these last 18 months working from home, shoppers were risking their lives while the company did nothing to protect them. Instead, they quadrupled their workforce with desperate people in need of income, using them to bring down pay and replace any shopper who knew their worth.

The default tip must be raised to at least 10% for every single order. Instacart has been playing with our tips since 2016 — first replacing them with a service fee that the company said went to us (even though they pocketed it), then outright stealing our tips, then using tips to supplement the pay, and more recently testing out a user interface without a default tip set. Instacart shoppers are bleeding out of both ends — the base pay is now far lower than it has been AND the company is discouraging customers from tipping. A 5% default tip is abysmal when paired with Instacart’s low pay.

Instacart has failed to meet these demands so we’re kicking off a new round of tactics. We will be taking our grievances to their doorstep.

On December 15th, at 1 pm pst outside of Instacart’s Beale St. headquarters, Tech Workers Coalition will be joining Instacart shoppers to protest and call upon Instacart’s corporate employees to end their complicity and stand in solidarity with shoppers to ensure our needs and demands are met.

For five years shoppers have successfully prevented an Instacart IPO through organizing. Shoppers have done so because it is imperative that Instacart’s greed is not rewarded, as conditions for shoppers have continually deteriorated. Instacart has intentionally exploited shoppers through black box algorithms that have gutted our pay, designed new iterations of tip theft and misappropriation, and tightened the control over every aspect of our work. Instacart has not only been complicit in the oppressive architecture of our work, but they’ve also designed the most grueling aspects of our exploitation — all to add to their bottom line when Instacart IPOs.

The way Instacart treats its frontline workforce and corporate workforce could not be more different. While Instacart shoppers have worked as essential frontline workers throughout the pandemic, corporate employees have worked from the safety of their own homes. While our pay was gutted, corporate employees received performance bonuses, increased perks, and extended vacation time. Surely though corporate employees do have a moral compass, and have felt remorse knowing that while they’re safely working at home that shoppers were contracting COVID.

Instacart wouldn’t be able to execute its shady practices, like automated deactivations for things outside shoppers’ control or the removal of tip defaults for new customers, if their corporate employees didn’t put the ideas into fruition by programming and coding these mechanisms into the app. Just as there is no Instacart without shoppers, there are no shady algorithms without programmers, engineers, designers, and systems architects.

By its own admission, Instacart’s corporate employees are financially rewarded for innovating new ways to extract more from workers, such as their new “beta test” program eliminating up-front tipping. By contrast, known systemic issues, like hacked accounts, unfair deactivations, no-tip defaults and tip-baiting, and inaccessible COVID-19 pay have been occurring for over a year and still never been resolved. These are issues that hurt shoppers on a daily basis, and in many cases can result in utter financial ruin.

These are all issues that if prioritized or treated with any sense of urgency could be easily fixed, if Instacart only cared enough to do so. The irony is not lost on shoppers that only two weeks after our walk off and customer protest, Instacart was deemed one of America’s most loved workplaces by Newsweek noting that corporate “Employees get bonuses for their insights and for coming up with beta tests for new customer features. If you are looking for hierarchies, this is not a place for you. No silos allowed.” There is no clearer example of workplace hierarchy than the difference between the value Instacart assigns to its corporate employees and the value it assigns to its lowest-paid, frontline workforce.

We’ve witnessed demonstrations of solidarity from corporate workforces in tech, Google’s and Facebook’s corporate employees rallied alongside low-paid contracted workforces that succeeded in improving conditions and establishing higher standards for workers. Additionally, corporate tech workers have rallied around issues of health, safety, climate change, and social justice in their own workplaces. Google’s corporate employees staged a walkout in protest of sexual harassment allegations, Amazon’s corporate employees organized a walkout in protest of the company’s environmental impact, Netflix’s corporate employees banded together to walk out in protest of Dave Chapelle’s transphobic Netflix special. These are powerful examples of what even well-compensated employees can do when they find and flex their power as workers.

The time to organize is now! Every day we organize alongside tech workers in all capacities, and frontline workers are organizing and ready to stand in solidarity and support you. We’re the most powerful when we leverage our collective power against injustice. As shoppers that are organizing, our demands are fair, reasonable, and well thought out. The average Instacart corporate employee is infinitely closer to the position of shoppers than they are to the executives in the C-Suite, so we ask where does your solidarity lie? We implore you to take a stand, your colleagues will be joining us in protest, will you? Tech Workers Coalition and Gig Workers’ Collective look forward to initiating a relationship with you on December 15th!