Instacart’s Embattled Gig Workers Are Going On a Nationwide Strike

Instacart’s Embattled Gig Workers Are Going On a Nationwide Strike
Photo: Michael Loccisano / Staff, Getty Images

Protesting what they characterise as low wages and a lack of consistent communication from corporate, gig workers on the grocery delivery app Instacart are poised to begin a nationwide work stoppage on Saturday.

The strike, which is being organised by members of the grassroots labour organisation the Gig Workers Collective, has long been threatened by Instacart workers sounding the alarm about subpar working conditions at the company, and follows a September campaign beseeching customers to #DeleteInstacart until the company took steps to address workers’ concerns.

Both campaigns have called for Instacart’s corporate honchos to address a five-pronged list of concerns laid out by workers, which includes establishing a base pay for each order completed, a return to a commission-based pay model, reinstatement of the 10 per cent default tip (the current default tip is 5 per cent), the establishment of occupational death benefits for workers who die on the job and a customers rating system that doesn’t allow workers to be penalised for factors that fall outside of their control.

“We know that in order for us to see change, we need to hit Instacart where it hurts,” Willy Solis, a member of the Gig Workers Collective, told Vice. “We’re organising the walk-off because the company continues to ignore us. Our goal is to get Instacart to engage with us.”

In addition to changes to their salary and benefit structures, workers have also campaigned in recent months for better safety precautions to be brought into practice at the company, particularly in light of ongoing concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19.

For many, frustrations about inadequate working conditions have been compounded by Instacart’s $US39 ($53) billion valuation while gig workers have struggled to deliver groceries throughout the pandemic at great risk to their own physical and mental well-being, the company has made it increasingly difficult to earn a reasonable hourly rate on the platform without relying on tips from customers.

It’s worth noting that once they go on strike on October 16, gig workers at Instacart will be in good company. In addition to the more than 10,000 John Deere workers who went on strike earlier this week after rejecting the terms of a proposed six-year collective bargaining agreement, workers from Kellogg’s and nurses and other union members from the health care firm Kaiser Permanente have also been on the picket line during what has been unofficially dubbed “Striketober.”

Johnnie Kallas, a Ph.D. student at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labour Relations, told NBC News that the recent strike actions are the combined result of two major forces currently shaping the labour market: “Workers have more labour-market leverage with employers needing and struggling to hire, and then a lot of these workers have been on the front line of a global pandemic for the past 19 months and were touted as heroes, which has given them lots of leverage,” he said.

For its part, Instacart has been vocal in the past about the fact that worker-led strikes have ‘absolutely no impact’ on the company’s bottom line — meaning that if anybody’s going to hit the corporate fat cats where it hurts, it will likely be the customers rather than the shoppers themselves.