I’m a gig worker who argued for Seattle’s new minimum pay laws. Now, I’m fighting for my Instacart job.

I’m a gig worker who argued for Seattle’s new minimum pay laws. Now, I’m fighting for my Instacart job.
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I’m a gig worker who argued for Seattle’s new minimum pay laws. Now, I’m fighting for my Instacart job.
Instacart cut the minimum base pay that its gig-worker delivery drivers are paid, and many say the lower pay is making it harder to earn money on the app.

  • Seattle’s new minimum pay law for gig workers took effect on Jan. 13.
  • One Instacart shopper said that the law has created “a livable wage” for workers.
  • But other issues, like sudden “deactivations”, need more attention, the shopper said.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Michelle Balzer, an Instacart driver in Seattle. Balzer was among those who advocated for PayUp, a series of bills meant to protect gig workers passed by Seattle’s city council. One of the laws, which requires companies like Instacart to pay contractors the equivalent of the city’s $19.97-an-hour minimum wage, took effect on January 13.

Business Insider has verified Balzer’s employment and identity. The story has been edited for length and clarity.

I am actually a licensed addiction counselor, and that’s what I’ve been doing since 2012. I had just left a job right around January 2020 and was going to start a new job, but then the pandemic hit, and a lot of the agencies shut down.

I started working for Instacart that year, but I was just getting my feet wet. In 2021, I went all in. My sister was a foster mom, and I liked the flexibility of being able to work and spend time with her kids on my schedule.

I got involved in PayUp right away. I’m in a Facebook group for gig workers in the Pacific Northwest, and if you ever talk to people and read the posts, they’re like, “Don’t bank on this for your own employment.” I started commenting on some posts and got invited to a meeting for people organizing around PayUp. I’m kind of a fighter for things that are just, and so it wasn’t hard to sell me on being part of it.

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I recognize the difficult position that gig companies are put in. Instacart has 600,000 shoppers. Can they actually feasibly pay 600,000 shoppers and bring them on as employees? I don’t think that’s realistic, as deep as their pockets are. But does that mean they get to pay us the equivalent of $2 an hour? No. I really felt like there had to be some kind of happy medium.

The way that PayUp has rolled out, the money that is coming in now is insane. The batch pay used to be $10, and now it’s $90.

There are some tradeoffs. Instacart has set the default tip to 0% when customers check out online — it used to be 5%. Shoppers have to get a weekly paycheck instead of cashing out their earnings instantly. If you are in Seattle, you will never be able to accept an order that goes out of Seattle’s city limits. I feel like Instacart got really tedious with the rules and kind of punitive.

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Since PayUp has started, I’ve seen a lot of people post about the crappy tips. And part of me goes, “Tips are meant to subsidize income. You’re getting a livable wage.”

I think that we in Seattle definitely paved the way with PayUp. Our goal now as a campaign is to go statewide and try to find someone to take this to the floor of the Washington state legislature.

But there are still problems. In January, I was deactivated from Instacart because a customer claimed that I chipped some concrete on her driveway with my car. However, Instacart support said that once I provided proof of resolution, either with the customer directly or with my insurance, I’d be reactivated.

Now, weeks later, my insurance emailed them to let them know this incident was resolved, but Instacart still hasn’t reactivated me. I’m thinking about filing for arbitration. I don’t know what else to do.

Seattle passed a law last year that would give us 14 days of notice before we get deactivated and require us to speak to an actual human about our case instead of just getting automated messages. But it doesn’t take effect until 2025.

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More than the money, this is probably the most important aspect of this ordinance. It’s a right that we should be able to advocate for ourselves and our treatment. People need to be able to fight for what they need to survive.

An Instacart spokesperson told BI: “Due to new regulations imposed by the Seattle City Council, we’re making several changes to how Instacart operates in Seattle. Some of these changes include reduced service options and pricing increases for customers, as well as pay changes for shoppers,” and added that “we may need to make additional changes in response to these new set of laws.”

Instacart also confirmed that it deactivated Balzer and that its Trust and Safety team “has been in frequent contact with Ms. Balzer and provided details about how she may resolve the issue.”

Do you work for Instacart, DoorDash, Walmart Spark, or another gig work app and have a story idea to share? Reach out to this reporter at [email protected]

Read the original article on Business Insider

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