In the Los Deliveristas Unidos survey, low pay was by far the biggest concern cited by workers: 64% said they worked six or seven days a week, and the average net hourly wage, including tips, was $12.40 . The minimum wage in New York is $15 an hour.
Workers are also responsible for their own expenses, including the electric bikes that most New York delivery people use, batteries and maintenance for those bikes, helmets, monthly data plans and cooler bags. New York laws will require businesses to cover bags, but overall expenses reported in the survey averaged $339 per month.
Outside of densely populated cities, most food delivery people travel by car, so recent spikes in gas prices have also been incredibly hard on workers. “About 50% of the deals I see are ones that there’s no way to profit from,” said Vanessa Bain, an Instacart customer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. “You’re either going to break even, or more likely than not, you’re going to lose money taking it.”
Bain started on Collective of concert workers in 2016 to help Instacart shoppers organize for fair compensation. That year, the company attempted to remove tipping, but reinstated it after the organization waged a boycott. And they have successfully fought other changes to the compensation algorithm that have reduced salaries since then.
“There have been many, many instances where Instacart has either cut pay, removed transparency, or manipulated or altered our earning capacity,” Bain said. “Buyers have responded with . . . action, and we get a concession almost every time. Yet, she said, Instacart’s cash on delivery is now entirely driven by a proprietary algorithm, which means that the company can “save a few pennies” or make changes to how buyers get paid at any time, without disclosing those changes.
In the Bay Area, she said, the number of people working in the app-based food economy at any given time is so high that when she logs on to Instacart, she has to wait for an offer to appear. , then make a split-second decision whether to accept it or not, even though it might not pay off, before another buyer gets a hold of it.
Unlike New York, where Los Deliveristas Unidos found most food delivery workers worked 40 or more hours each week, Bain said she saw fewer people working for Instacart in the Bay Area full-time.
“As the profitability and sustainability of this work moves further and further away from us, there aren’t as many people able to do this job full time and pay their bills and stay afloat,” she said. As a result, organizing workers in the Gig Workers Collective has become more difficult as people move in and out of work quickly.
Still, Bain has a core group of about 1,000 members, she said, and the group’s main goal is to correct what she calls a “misclassification.” She believes that under California law, app-based food and grocery store workers should be classified as employees and that the state has not enforced the law. Under AB5, app-based delivery people were supposed to be classified as employees, but a 2020 voter-approved law that was heavily backed by companies including Uber, Lyft and DoorDash exempted those companies from the law. The two laws are tied up in court battles.