Instacart is the world’s most popular food delivery service. Against the background of coronavirus, the number of orders increased by 500%. This is the company that received the greatest benefits during the crisis. This year, this startup, which appeared in 2012, expects sales of $ 35 billion – although a year and a half ago the entire company was valued at $ 7.6 billion. It’s all about coronavirus: Instacart offers a safer way of shopping. But this does not apply to her workers. The more profit a company has, the more difficult it becomes for them to literally survive.
At the onset of the coronavirus crisis, Instacart couriers almost bathed in money. In February, everything was not very good: the company switched to the model of “whoever took the first – that and slippers.” Good orders (as they are called in Instacart, “parties” or “packages”) went to the one who first managed to take them. Many of them were missing. But at the beginning of March, everything changed: workers logged into the application saw hundreds of orders, moreover, expensive ones, at $ 100- $ 500 and higher. Americans quarantined. For the execution of one order, you could earn more than before it turned out in a day.
Then – some of the courier buyers began to get sick. Employees from Las Vegas, New York, and other cities, running around the supermarket every day and delivering food to their homes, went to home quarantine. Then, in the United States, doctors ordered bedtime at home for 14 days – unless hospitalization was required.
March 10th company reportedthat if her courier is “diagnosed with COVID-19,” these two weeks they will receive a salary. Up to $ 3,000. But as employees say in comments in social networks, it was almost impossible to get paid. Even if they pre-filled all the papers and sent documents from the doctor, they are not paid. Requests are rejected, for example, for the reason that the doctor’s words are not enough, confirmation from government agencies is needed. And receiving such papers is the last thing a person with a coronavirus thinks about.
As a result, having received good PR on the news about payments to sick employees (and the percentage of sick people at Instacart is high), and earning tens of billions, the company can spend nothing. Workers even organize and write petitions, turn to senators and they write Longrides on Medium. But no one will put pressure on the company, which so far the Americans need no less than Amazon. And since couriers are registered as independent contractors, they cannot receive unemployment benefits either. So if you get sick during the coronavirus, you might end up on the street.
Instacart anyway. Old employees are not interested in her. In just a couple of months, the number of its “independent contractors” has grown several times. At the beginning of the year she had 130 thousand employees. In March she reported 300,000 more about hiring. And exactly one month later, in April – still 250,000.
As a result, in large cities, the number of courier buyers has more than quadrupled. And they have no choice. The number of unemployed in America is growing even faster in 2.5 months already 40 million people applied for unemployment benefits. One in four able-bodied Americans is unemployed. And many others who have the strength are temporary employees without benefits for companies such as Uber, Lyft, Amazon and Instacart.
The problem is also that now that you don’t need to buy the whole quarantine, there are simply not enough orders for such a number of couriers. Especially those that would make money. This is the basis for the Instacart business model, thanks to which it has become the most successful and rich delivery service. Most orders barely allow you to recapture spent on their delivery (for fuel for cars or scooters). But people still fulfill them – in the hope of receiving the very cherished “$ 100 + order”, for which it’s worth working all day. In the meantime, wait for him, carry smaller orders, hoping for a tip.
For most orders, couriers in the United States receive $ 7 (minimum set by the service). For this they need to go to the supermarket, pick up all the necessary goods, stand in line, take the purchases to the address. And the best orders for which they pay $ 20 + are instantly grabbed. Even if you have worked at Instacart for 5 years, you get no priority. As a result, experienced employees are constantly leaving the platform in tens of thousands, tired of competition. And new ones come – through referrals, promotions or just in the hope that something will work out.
Instacart checks and selects couriers, but the company holds the position that they are not its employees. It is only a system for searching for orders, like a bulletin board. The application does not assign a specific batch to a specific person. Everyone is free to make their choice, you can at least not work at all. Instacart is just an interface connecting an order database with a database of free people who want to offer their work. Therefore, no laws relating to employers apply to it. So the company is now fighting off any incriminating texts to your address.
In order to somehow deal with the bureaucracy of large companies that have figured out how to profitably use temporary “contractors”, such workers are organized via the Internet. There are no unions here, but there are forums and online organizations, like Gig workers collective. It helps employees of more than ten companies, including Amazon, Uber, Shipt and Postmates, get the right information to claim their rights.
Sarah Clark, an Instacart courier working with the Gig Workers Collective, writes there:
They spend people very quickly, and they are desperate. They understand that when it all ends, they will have too many people on the platform that they will not need. Therefore, they are so lower prices and do not give normal conditions. It is beneficial for such companies that we burn out faster. An experienced employee here is more of a problem, he has more expectations.
Previously, at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, you could wait up to four minutes to choose a better batch for yourself. Then, with the start of a wave of layoffs, good orders lay on average for 30 seconds. Now they disappear as soon as they appear. There are rumors among Instacart employees that the bot shaves off all normal orders. And then he sells them to couriers somewhere in the secondary market. Even if the owners of such bots get a certain percentage, it is still more profitable than fulfilling orders for $ 7.
Another “lure” for couriers and buyers to continue to fulfill orders is the hope of a tip. The amount recommended by Instacart (in the application interface) is $ 5, or 20% of the order amount. But at the time of the coronavirus they ask to give the more, the better, since people put their health at stake for your sake.
Usually, in the “fat” years for couriers, gratuities were the expected thing. They can be indicated in the application along with the order so that your “package” will be accepted, assembled and brought back quickly. But now this is not necessary: orders are still picked up almost instantly.
In addition, you can promise a tip, but change the amount even a few days after the completion of the order. Why Instacart did this is not very clear. Perhaps it would be possible to punish buyers this way if something in the package they brought didn’t suit you. But in the end, “bait fishing” is now practiced, when when placing an order large tips are promised, and then they are reduced to almost zero.
According to representatives of Instacart, their statistics show that a decrease in tip occurs rarely, in less than 1% of cases. But many old employees do not believe such numbers, and in general, in fact, are at war with a company that gives them work. They say that such orders are constantly encountered, even if they perform only 5-7 trips per day.
An Instacart employee says in the comments of the Facebook group:
I saw one order today. At $ 7, thirty items, more than 12 kg. It was necessary to take only a couple of kilometers, but it’s still seven dollars, without a tip. And someone took it. People, apparently, are completely in despair. Do not value yourself. They just see that it is money and that they need to feed the children. They do not even think that they are selling their health, and what they will do if they become infected.
Journalists spoke with ten Instacart workers who had had COVID-19. Each of them spent in quarantine from two to four weeks. Only three received compensation from the company. One was a full-time full-time employee at the main office, and received payment through his HR channels. The other got only part of the amount for which he fought for several weeks. Most of the payments were not received, each for various minor reasons. The company recently allotted $ 20 million to support couriers during the coronavirus crisis, but all this will probably go to masks and gloves. Such an amount for payments will definitely not be enough.
New York, most affected by the epidemic, now claps irreplaceable workers risking their lives for the well-being of others. People coordinate to make noise at 7pm and give people understandthat they value their sacrifices. Homemade posters with words of gratitude can be seen in the windows and on the lawns.
Recently, such irreplaceable workers, in addition to teachers, doctors and soldiers, have been supplemented by delivery service employees who run around the empty streets every day. Mostly they are valued and respected. For older people, this is often the only relatively safe way to get food. But they will not receive decent compensation or at least medical insurance for their work. For services that reached incredible heights during the pandemic, they became consumables.