U.S. same-day grocery service Instacart has a checkered past when it comes to fair and dignified labour practices, and now dozens of its contract workers are claiming that the company app torments them into accepting shitty jobs or suffering the consequences.
Instacart workers are independent contractors whose wage is contingent on the tasks they accept through the app, which are called “batches,” and involve delivering groceries and other personal items. According to dozens of Instacart workers who spoke with Bloomberg, the app is designed to effectively pressure workers into jobs that they might not want to do, such as ones that don’t pay enough or that occur at an inconvenient time, and penalizes them for rejecting them.
There are a number of ways detailed in the report that illustrate how Instacart harasses contractors into jobs without any actual irl human interfacing. When a worker is offered a job through the app, they receive the details with a green “ACCEPT” button, and the offer pings for four minutes, oftentimes without letting the worker decline it.
Instead, workers claim that they have to mute their phone or close the app unless they want to listen to the alarm go off for several minutes. Instacart worker Eric Vallett told Bloomberg that he’s accepted more than one job just to stop listening to the pinging. “You just want to get away from that sound.”
Instacart also sends messages to workers that are seemingly designed to shame them for not accepting jobs. After workers sit through the minutes-long pinging to decline a job, they’ll get a text message that reads “Your batch has been removed.” That’s a more innocuous example of the types of messages that workers received.
They also claimed that they get an in-app message that reads “Watch it!” if they don’t respond to a job in a timely manner and they are prompted to confirm that they’re still available for work when they reject batches. “Not doing so may affect your future ability to select hours for services,” the message reportedly reads. One Instacart worker told Bloomberg that she was penalised with a “reliability incident” — which is another way workers lose priority over better jobs — for rejecting a job, even though she told the company that she couldn’t work because her car was broken into.
Workers also claimed that sometimes the company’s Shopper Happiness team members will call them to insist they take a job. “They’ll call you repeatedly,” Instacart worker Kristin Klatkiewicz told Bloomberg. “They’ll be like, ‘You’re the only shopper available. Sometimes they’re like, ‘You need to take this order.’” When Klatkiewicz asked for five dollars added to a low-paying gig, she was told no. Another Instacart worker told Bloomberg that the Shopper Happiness staff repeatedly called her to discuss jobs that she never accepted.
The report also detailed Instacart systems that are seemingly designed to give more flexibility and privileges to workers, but ultimately further exacerbate an already unfair and competitive labour model. One, an “early access potion” that lets workers reserve better jobs ahead of time, reportedly requires them to work 90 hours for three weeks prior to being granted the privileges or 25 hours for three weekends, and even after doing so, they claimed that Instacart can end their shift early or give them a “reliability incident” if they turn down jobs they don’t want.
And Instacart’s on-demand system which was recently rolled out to give workers more flexibility instead was characterised as an aggressive first-come-first-serve system, with people quickly accepting jobs that may be less than ideal out of the stress that someone else might grab it first. “It’s like Hunger Games,” Instacart worker Heidi Carrico told Bloomberg. “If you don’t accept it, someone else will.”