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Shipt shoppers are the latest gig workers to organize – TechCrunch

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Inspired by the work of Instacart shoppers over the last few years, a handful of workers at Target-owned Shipt, a grocery delivery service, are beginning to organize. With the help of two key Instacart shopper-activists, Vanessa Bain and Sarah Clarke, who goes by a pseudonym, Shipt workers are now demanding better wages and the elimination of what some describe as a culture of fear.

“We want to be the first responders,” Clarke tells TechCrunch. “Whenever gig workers find out there is a pay cut or some type of issue, they’ll feel comfortable coming to us.”

In January, Shipt started testing a new pay structure where, instead of basing it on cart size, Shipt takes into account the time it takes to complete and deliver an order. Shipt implemented these changes in Kalamazoo, Mich., San Antonio and Philadelphia. As Gizmodo reported earlier this month, there was some shopper backlash.

Prior to the changes, shoppers had received a $5 flat rate and 7.5% of the total store receipt, one shopper, who asked to remain anonymous, told TechCrunch.

“We are losing money as shoppers at a ridiculous rate,” a shopper from Kalamazoo tells TechCrunch. “A very good, close friend of mine told me in the three weeks since the new structure was implemented, she has lost the equivalent of a car payment. It is a lot of money. Our best guestimation is, we’re all losing about 30% or more. I did four orders this past weekend and I lost money on every single one.”

But Shipt says its goal is to maximize the earning potential for its shoppers and to make sure they get the most value for their time spent. That’s why Shipt is testing this new pay structure in certain markets to better account for time spent shopping and delivering orders, Shipt Director of Corporate Communications and Outreach Julie Coop told TechCrunch.

“In this structure, shoppers are guaranteed to make at least the minimum in the pay range shown at the time the order is offered to them,” Coop said. “That range is based on the estimated amount of time the order will take to complete. We’ve seen pay levels remain consistent overall, and in some markets slightly higher. As always, Shipt Shoppers receive 100% of their tips on top of order pay.”

Shipt connected me with Stacy Smith, who shops for Shipt in Kalamazoo, Mich. Smith tells TechCrunch she has no issue with the new policy, saying that she’s actually seen a slight increase in her pay. While it was more attractive and economical for her to get bigger orders in the old pay model, the size of the order now doesn’t matter.

“I’m now getting a little less pay in larger-size orders and a little bit increase in the middle or smaller orders, which is the abundance of them,” Smith says. “If we’re not getting paid a little bit more for those smaller to mid-sized orders, that makes sense to me. The big picture is we used to get upset because we had these small or mid-sized orders. But now we get paid a little more for those orders.”

At this point, it’s not clear how many of Shipt’s workers are for or against this new pay structure. Still, a number of workers reached out to Clarke and Bain once the pay structure started rolling out.

“Shipt has been pretty under the radar,” Clarke said. “No one is really paying attention to them — mostly because the workers are scared to speak out.”

Willy Solis, who shops for Shipt in the Dallas area, is one of the shoppers who reached out to Clarke.

“I’ve followed Sarah and Vanessa’s work and their efforts over on Instacart, because I’m on that platform as well,” Solis tells TechCrunch. “I’ve been seeing what they’ve been able to accomplish, so when Sarah asked in our group lounge if anyone is interested in talking, I jumped at it.”

Solis says he had been thinking about organizing for some time, but there had been no catalyst for him and other workers to do something. Now, Solis is working with Clarke and Bain through their Gig Workers Collective to figure out their strategy moving forward.

“While I am afraid of being deactivated due to speaking out, I am hopeful Shipt will hear the Shipt shopper communities voice as a collective whole, rather than censoring and ignoring dissenting concerns,” he says.

There are two main Facebook groups where Shipt shoppers interact. One is Shipt Shoppers United, which one shopper from Iowa, who asked to remain anonymous, describes as being “a little more real.” The group strictly prohibits people from Shipt’s corporate team, but it’s much smaller in size. This group has just a little over 6,000 members.

The other group is the Shipt Shopper Lounge, which is administered by members from Shipt HQ. This group has more than 100,000 members. It’s in this group where Solis says Shipt has created a “cult-like environment” where the company deletes any negative comments in Facebook groups for shoppers and only lets shoppers see “feel-good stories in an attempt to keep up shopper moral.”

Solis said his comments have been deleted from the Shipt Shopper Lounge Facebook group and his local Shipt group. This culture of fear, Solis says, leaves some shoppers feeling like they have to take every order, or else they’ll be punished in some way, like getting sent low-paying orders or getting deactivated. Or, if they speak out against the company in Facebook groups, some say they fear they’ll be deactivated.

“Shopper feedback has been incredibly important to improving the experience we create for our shopper community, members and retail partners,” Coop said. “We encourage Shipt Shoppers to share their opinions and feedback about their journey with Shipt, and we offer multiple feedback channels where shoppers are encouraged to speak freely to Shipt about their shopper experience.”

But the Iowa-based shopper, for example, referred to the vibe of the group as brainwashing.

“It’s almost like it tries to brainwash you into thinking the company can’t do anything wrong,” the shopper from Iowa says. “They won’t let you post negative things about it. If you do there’s a good chance you’ll be deactivated.”

This Iowa shopper says she saw someone question the pay model Shipt is testing, only for that comment to be deleted. Shipt, however, says it only deactivates people based on things like performance issues.

“Shipt does not make deactivation decisions based on shopper feedback that may be critical of Shipt, but is respectful and falls within our guidelines of appropriate actions,” Coop said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We do have written agreements with all shoppers that outline possible causes for deactivation including consistent performance issues resulting in a poor customer experience or unlawful behavior.”

While the culture and pay practices at Shipt are concerning to Solis, he says what really gets at him is the amount of control he says Shipt tries to exert over him.

“I wake up in the middle of the night scared that I forgot an order and will get deactivated,” he said, “That’s the type of fear they instill into you. I like being an independent contractor but I am not an independent contractor with Shipt in any sense of the word. The exercise of control and them telling me how to do my work and deliveries — it is control.”

Shipt, for example, requires shoppers to take certain training classes, such as Late Delivery refresher, which is sent to shoppers who have been late 10% of the time on their last 50 orders. If shoppers don’t get a perfect score, they risk being disabled from the platform. Here’s what the course, which Shipt has designed to take about 15 to 20 minutes, looks like.

 

Smith, on the other hand, says she feels like she can truly be independent on Shipt. Smith pointed to how she can make her own schedule determine which orders she wants to take.

“I know people look into things quite a bit and come up with theories,” Smith says. “But at the end of the day, there’s no way to say Shipt is trying to control this, that and the other. I’ve never felt controlled by them at all.”

Shipt is the latest company in the gig economy to find itself at odds with its workers. Last year marked a turning point among gig workers who deliver for Instacart and DoorDash, as well as people who drive for Uber and Lyft. Between the passage of gig worker protections bill AB 5 and workers at Spin unionizing, gone are the days where workers for these big tech companies can be silenced.

“We do have some headwinds in organizing,” Solis says. “The company is active in our groups. We have a lot of resistance from that standpoint so we need different strategies to let people know they can be anonymous and speak out and be heard.”

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Denver’s Gig Economy Workers Share Their Stories

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Photo by Victor Xok on Unsplash

Caught between the new coronavirus and earning a living, the Mile High City’s independent workforce opens up about how Lyft, Amazon, Instacart, and others are supporting them (or not) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In many ways, gig economy workers have become the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 crisis, often facing frontline exposure to the virus without the protections—including health and unemployment benefits—provided to traditional employees. Some companies have made efforts to support workers during this time, such as offering two weeks of sick pay for those diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. But even workers ordered to stay at home by local governments have experienced challenges getting the companies approve their claims.

Last week, which began with Instacart and Amazon employees and contractors striking for higher pay and better safety measures, several Denver gig workers talked with 5280 about their experiences during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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*Full names withheld at the request of the subjects. 

Nate*: Instacart

People are desperate, but that’s good though. Customers, they feel so bad for us, so a lot of the time they’re tipping us like crazy high. I could work seven days a week nonstop and make a ton of money, but I don’t want to do that because there’s a chance that I could be infected at anytime. Amazon and Whole Foods, their workers are going on strike because they don’t feel safe in these conditions.

The thing is, the last time people tried to strike against Instacart, it backfired on us. We used to have this quality bonus—every time a customer gave you five stars you got an extra $3 on your order. So it was a big incentive for us to give really good service. But when that strike happened, they completely removed it. They said they were going to implement new ways for incentivizing us with promotions, but that didn’t happen until—honestly until the coronavirus started to come into effect. Promotions are like, if you work from noon to 5 p.m., every delivery you do in that span you get an extra $3 per delivery. They don’t care. It’s that simple. They know they can exploit us and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Sherrie Salazar: Lyft, Instacart, Postmates

I have always done the express rental program through Lyft and Hertz, but the rental is $250 a week, and I haven’t been making that the last two weeks. Ridership is down. Grocery shopping and food deliveries are through the roof, which is what’s saving us gig workers right now. I just started with Instacart and Postmates during the pandemic. Postmates isn’t a big tipper. Instacart is. My Postmates stuff has all been food delivery; I think maybe customers think they’re paying too much for their food so they’re not going to tip the driver. It’s like, we’re out here making sure you get it. And it’s still warm—or cold, or whatever it’s supposed to be.

I’m a high-risk [patient] if I were to get COVID-19. My heart functions at 74 percent. I have asthma. I have kidney disease. I’m pre-diabetic. I’m still doing my job. I’m being safe about it.

JL*: Lyft

I’m pretty sure I had or still have COVID-19, and I self-isolated the moment I started having symptoms. My children have had it as well. I immediately contacted Lyft to let them know that I would be returning my rental and isolating. I then contacted them to see what relief would be available to me. They indicated that without a positive test result, I get no help. But no one can get tested in Colorado unless they are admitted to the hospital or meet the criteria for high risk. I contacted my primary care physician, and they indicated they would not issue a request for a test because I do not meet the criteria.

I’m convinced Lyft knows that not many people can get tested so they made that a requirement for helping drivers, thus limiting their need to help drivers. This is a crock of shit. I have been driving full-time for Lyft for a year with over 3,900 rides. I would estimate Lyft has made in excess of $40,000 from me. Still, they can’t help me even though I did the right thing and stopped driving. 

Steve*: Amazon Flex

Amazon has said it’s hiring 100,000 workers both in warehouses and as flex drivers. I guess my perception is that they’re trying to bring in a lot of new drivers to increase the pool of people who are picking from available slots so Amazon can avoid surge pricing. My personal opinion is everything Amazon is going to do is going to be in its favor—which is going to decrease the amount it has to pay to do deliveries.

I can certainly understand why people are [striking]: It’s the low pay. It’s all these packages that are coming in from all different locations and you just don’t know if the virus is on any of them. How long can it survive on cardboard packages? With this coronavirus, I’m hoping it does compel some of these companies that are providing gig work to provide better [personal protective equipment]—not only for the drivers’ protection but also for the customers’ protection as well

Stephanie Ramsey: Uber, Lyft, Instacart

I’m not someone who has a savings account that I can fall back on. I’m grateful that I at least have something, because if I didn’t have [Instacart] I would be in a bad position. But yeah, I certainly feel forced into it. There’s not another option, really.

I don’t want this to wreck years of my life financially. I don’t want to get buried. I could stay at home and probably call all of the billing companies, and they would put it off for a little while but—yeah, I’d rather risk going out and getting sick than have to worry about my finances. Definitely.

At this point in time, my tips have been 50 percent and more of my overall earnings. If I was strictly relying on what Instacart is willing to pay me, this would not be worth it. It’s only worth it because there have been a lot of generous people.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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WEBINAR: Demystifying Unemployment for 1099 and Gig Workers

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I’m a single owner of an LLC – should I apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment benefits, or both? I haven’t been eligible for unemployment in the past, but I think I might be now – how does that work?

The Colorado Small Business Development Center is pleased to announce a webinar tomorrow, Friday April 10, aimed at independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers.

Get your questions answered about who should apply for unemployment, how to do it, when to expect funds, and more during this webinar hosted by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

When: Friday April 10, at 10am

Register for this Online Zoom Meeting at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_osmdiJb4SeSqh6S8rKCs0A

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Ask SAM: What the heck are “gig workers”? | Ask SAM

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Q: What the heck are “gig workers”? I keep seeing that phrase turn up.

J.W.

Answer: That is a phrase for freelance and contract workers who work short gigs, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, temporary workers especially ones hired for a specific task. According to Investopedia, a business news website, “the gig economy is based on flexible, temporary or freelance jobs, often involving connecting with clients or customers through an online platform.”

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