Instacart's "transparent" new pay structure: underpayment, tip theft, and black-box algorithms

Since November, grocery shopping app Instacart has implemented a new pay structure — and it's meant dramatic cuts in pay, up to 40%, for Instacart workers. The company claims their new model is more "transparent," but in reality, they're just cutting down the pay per job to the lowest amount they can while also stealing customers' tips to subsidize wages.

Workers are speaking out to demand that Instacart agree to a predictable, truly transparent pay structure.

Click here to stand with them and sign the petition. Then read on to hear from Ashley, an Instacart worker in Tacoma, on how the new pay structure has affected her.

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"When I first started working for Instacart as a "shopper" almost a year ago, I loved my job. It meant supplementary income when my husband's work as a mortgage lender was slow and the ability to leave weekends and evenings free for my 7- and 10-year-old daughters.

But since November, when Instacart rolled out a new pay structure, all of that has changed.

The company claims their new pay structure is more "transparent" and "consistent." But in reality, the new pay structure isn't transparent at all — the pay per job seems to be completely arbitrary, and it looks like Instacart is just offering jobs for as little as they can get away with.

The old pay structure was a fixed model with a base rate for each job ($9.75 in Tacoma, where I work) and an additional incentive of 40 cents per item. Now, the pay structure is a black box that makes it totally unclear why we're being offered what we're offered. As shoppers, we often reject jobs only to see the same jobs re-appear on our app minutes later with another dollar or two added, indicating that Instacart is simply trying to sell the jobs to the lowest bidder with no other obvious standard for how pay should be calculated.

And pay isn't more consistent — just consistently lower.

I've seen an overall reduction of 30% in my pay. I went from making about $1000/week pre-expenses to making $600-700 a week. On top of that, as an independent contractor I have to pay for my own gas, oil changes, other car maintenance, and additional payroll taxes.

Not only am I making less money and pulling out of our savings to pay bills, I've had to work 7 days a week since the new pay structure rolled out. Not being able to spend time with my kids is really hard for me. I went from being there for everything to missing my daughter's first basketball practice so I could take more batches.

The most appalling thing of all: Instacart is actually using the tips customers pay us in order to subsidize the wages they're supposed to pay.

Instead of paying us a base wage and then passing tips on to us, they're actually using customers' pre-paid tips to cover the company's share of paying workers. In other words, for a job paying $10, if you tip $2, Instacart will pay us $8; if you tip $8, Instacart will only pay us $2. If a customer leaves a high tip, instead of meaning more money for us, it means Instacart gets to pay less for the job.

If customers knew Instacart was using their tips to lower the amount the company has to spend on labor, they would be furious. That's the customers' hard-earned money — they're trying to use it to tip workers in addition to Instacart's pay. They're not tipping so Instacart can pay workers less, they're tipping so workers can make more money. But Instacart is using those tips to pay wages, and it's not OK.

I loved my job, but I'm so frustrated at this point I'm looking for something else to do. I would have loved to keep working for Instacart. Some of the things we do are cumbersome, and we have to be on our feet all day lifting heavy items, but I still envisioned doing this into the foreseeable future. Now, I just can't make it work for me or for my family. I can't continue to work as hard as I'm working, and make the sacrifices I'm making, and come home with the money I'm earning.

It's time for Instacart to step up and make a real change for workers that really gives us transparency and consistency in our pay.

It's time for them to put workers and customers first — not the company's bottom line. Click here to tell Instacart to quit stealing our tips, undercutting our pay, and leaving us in the dark about their pay algorithms.

Thank you for your support,
Ashley, Tacoma Instacart shopper"