"No matter what, never trust a tip."
April 10, 2020 12:01 AM   Subscribe

Due to soaring demand and no available slots, some customers are baiting Instacart shoppers with big tips and taking the tips away after delivery. The result is that gig workers whose income depends on their orders can’t always trust they’ll be fairly compensated for their work.

"It's truly evil to bait and switch in this type of environment," said Greening. "Their livelihood and well-being are on the line. When these shoppers and drivers see a high tip, it's an opportunity for them to put food on the table, so they're more willing to take a risk on their health to achieve that goal."

Need groceries? Compare delivery alternatives to Instacart. The answer isn't the throw the whole app or service away, as many, such as people with disabilities do rely on deliveries. However, the pandemic does force us to look hard at gig worker rights.
posted by ichomp (100 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
i didn't even know you could do that. i actually despise this new model of entering a tip before service has been rendered -- instead of, "you delivered my order, you did it properly" it feels like "pay me upfront to prioritize your order over others', and whether i do it properly or not is up to me." that you can take the tips away afterwards is an added level of bleh to the whole business model, which, frankly, i will avoid unless i absolutely have no choice.
posted by RTQP at 12:17 AM on April 10 [34 favorites]


I had a really hard time trying to leave a custom tip (dealing with a weird health issue, super grateful for the option to have stuff delivered).

Is Instacart SURE that these zero-dollar tips aren't caused by a software bug? Because, when I tried to enter a custom tip, the field wasn't showing what I typed - the space was left blank. I'm thinking it was a browser compatibility issue, perhaps. If I hadn't been paying attention, it could easily have ended up being a zero-dollar tip accidentally. And this was after the order was delivered - I'm still trying to get support to help me tip better.

The software makes me uneasy.

And nowhere did I see a field to send a message. I would have liked to do so.

If I were Instacart, I'd have a human looking at those messages to protect the shoppers from angry/crazy people -- you know that's going to happen.

Those shoppers should be treated like GOLD - I'd feel better if Instacart felt more protective of them.
posted by amtho at 12:39 AM on April 10 [11 favorites]


Imagine if people were just paid fairly and consistently for the labor they perform, rather than having to rely on the whims and fancies of individual customers. The mind fucking boggles.
posted by Jimbob at 1:13 AM on April 10 [232 favorites]


Is there some rule about giving the delivery person a fiver?
posted by Marky at 1:40 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Is there some rule about giving the delivery person a fiver?

I suspect Instacart monitors in-app tips as sort-of customer satisfaction ratings for the workers, and penalizes workers with lower ratings. So, slipping the delivery person a five might actually work against them. That's just speculation on my part, of course, but it seems in-line with the way these gig businesses operate, imho.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:46 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


Who DOES that?!
posted by jfwlucy at 2:01 AM on April 10 [10 favorites]


Is there some rule about giving the delivery person a fiver?

I hope not. We’ve gotten two deliveries via Instacart since this began. Each time I’ve given the person a $20, because Instacart has been known to play games with tips.
posted by jzb at 2:56 AM on April 10 [14 favorites]


My local food delivery places are refusing cash-on-delivery or cash tips at the moment; you need to pay by card online, and they leave the food on the doorstop and ring the bell to keep social distancing in place. Handing over potentially contaminated notes (and getting close enough to actually hand them over) just increases the risk for the delivery person who is going to be encountering many people per day right now.

But then, we don't have the same tip culture in the UK; workers need to make at least minimum wage by law before tips (though this should still be higher than it is) and tips are generally for good service, not for every single interaction. I at least try to be kind to delivery staff, and thankful, regardless. Dealing with arsehole entitled customers was the worst part when I worked retail (and still is, in IT).
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 3:31 AM on April 10 [11 favorites]


I'm not surprised that some people would do this, but am also wondering if part of it could be a software bug. My wife and I recently did Instacart for my mother-in-law (who is definitely high-risk) and it took several tries to get the order to go through, with multiple technical issues along the way.

Either way, makes me feel a bit better about my decision to forego delivery services and just go to the store myself. Delivery slots are effectively impossible to get in my neighborhood anyway, would rather they go to those in need.

My local food delivery places are refusing cash-on-delivery or cash tips at the moment; you need to pay by card online, and they leave the food on the doorstop and ring the bell to keep social distancing in place.

This is becoming more common with takeout in the US as well. My local Thai restaurant insisted on card payment up front (no online presence so had to do it by phone), then left the order on a table by the door. Many businesses don't want to mess with cash or exchanging cards right now, and I don't blame them.
posted by photo guy at 3:53 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


but am also wondering if part of it could be a software bug

no. it's because people are horrible.

i've been tipping heavily in cash for everything now and i'm already a 30-35% tipper so it's getting difficult but honestly the guy that brought me 4 bacon egg & cheese breakfast sandwiches 3 days in a row deserved $20 each time for not openly judging me.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:05 AM on April 10 [110 favorites]


It really could be a software bug. The idea that people are horrible is not impossible, but I've experienced glitches like the one photo guy describes, too. I mostly don't think people who would game the system this way are smart enough to think of it, and it seems short-sighted; the delivery people will remember your address. I agree that the real solution is to build compensation into the worker's real wage without relying on the customer to pay them a fair price.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:12 AM on April 10 [6 favorites]


Instacart workers are paid an insanely low amount for the work they do and the risk they take on.
posted by backlikeclap at 5:00 AM on April 10 [9 favorites]


Also if you want to tip your delivery work in cash, find a way to leave that money out for them (clearly marked) so that they don't have to get close to you to receive the tip.
posted by backlikeclap at 5:02 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Who would do that?

Donald Trump would do that.
posted by notsnot at 5:11 AM on April 10 [30 favorites]


I tipped my last delivery worker via Venmo. It ain't cash but then again it doesn't require contact and it's direct to them so the service they work for can't mess with it.
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:11 AM on April 10 [10 favorites]


It's the toilet paper people, isn't it?
posted by Increase at 5:33 AM on April 10 [8 favorites]


Since quarantine, I've gotten two food deliveries (using a local app). In both cases, I tipped the suggested amount in the app, and then in the delivery instructions, I put that there was an additional cash tip and where to find it. I put it in a plastic bag and wiped down the plastic bag with antibacterial wipes, and put it outside. Neither time the driver took it. I have no way of knowing if it's because their managers discourage cash tips, or if it's fear of contamination, or if no one actually reads the delivery instructions.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:36 AM on April 10 [6 favorites]


Point of clarification: my local service only does contactless delivery now; there's no way to see the driver unless I jump out from behind a bush.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:38 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


Who DOES that?!

People who hear the expression “first up against the wall when the revolution comes” and like the idea they will be in the priority lane ahead of others - but apparently worry they may have to tip the doorperson on the way in.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 5:39 AM on April 10 [16 favorites]


I've never used InstaCart. Does it not allow delivery people to rate the customers? I imagine a bunch of 0 stars would end this practice immediately.
posted by dobbs at 5:54 AM on April 10 [7 favorites]


I admire the optimism of all of you in not assuming that Instacart isn't stealing the tips via "glitch."
posted by stevis23 at 5:59 AM on April 10 [24 favorites]


I have sometimes put a value in the "tip" field and then, when the order arrives, given the deliverer cash instead. Because I thought the current thinking was you were supposed to tip gig workers in cash, to keep the company they contract for from extracting a portion of the tip to "recover" the "delivery fee" or whatever? I always tip more in cash than the value of the tip in the app showed.

I haven't had anything delivered in a while, but I'd hate for that kind of behavior to be part of the problem. So I guess I'll stop doing that. I hate that people aren't just paid a fair value for their work, but now I also hate that I have to keep educated on contemporary methods of tactical tipping to prevent workers from being punished unfairly/having the money I'm trying to give them taken away.
posted by penduluum at 6:14 AM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Just to be clear here: what I'm seeing here is a bunch of users, for whom the "user experience" is supposed to be as easy and painless as possible, having to reverse engineer a completely opaque algorithm to satisfy the simple use case of trying to keep their fellow humans alive.

Next time an instacart delivery shows up, maybe you can ask for their email address and got the middleware out entirely?
posted by phooky at 6:22 AM on April 10 [14 favorites]


I tape a $5 or a $10 or a whatever to the door for the contactless delivery person. Spoiler alert: They take it.
posted by AugustWest at 6:29 AM on April 10 [6 favorites]


Instacart is no better than Door Dash. If you live in a place that is dense enough to have Instacart, you almost certainly have other options that are less shitty. Don't use this bullshit if you can avoid it.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:32 AM on April 10 [11 favorites]


I'm not ordering delivery, because it's a nightmare in my building, but if you are, you could print your venmo and cashapp barcodes and tape them to your door.
posted by mercredi at 6:40 AM on April 10


This is a good idea. People will always take cash, but if you have alternatives, use them. Cash isn't great at spreading viruses, but it does harbor bacteria.

More importantly, by leaving cash you're forcing people to choose between having money and another potential vector, however small.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:43 AM on April 10 [4 favorites]


If you live in a place that is dense enough to have Instacart, you almost certainly have other options that are less shitty.

In the pandemic, everywhere has Instacart now. Most grocery stores have not beefed up their deliveries though.

I join the crowd of people who don’t want to believe anyone could be quite that monstrous. It’s a special kind of person who would do something like that and I fundamentally cannot understand them.
posted by corb at 7:21 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


I saw this on Reddit last night. There was some discussion there about leaving a tip of $0.22 as an indication that there would be a cash tip offered.
posted by lester at 7:22 AM on April 10


But that seems just as easy to game — no way of trusting that someone putting up a $0.22 top will in fact tip in cash once they've gotten your attention.

Seems like if people are using the tip as a de facto bribe ahead of time to take their order first, it should stop being possible to revoke it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:27 AM on April 10 [4 favorites]


> In the pandemic, everywhere has Instacart now.

No, it doesn't.
posted by stevil at 7:27 AM on April 10 [6 favorites]


you delivered my order, you did it properly

This is kind of the problem I have with tipping, although my concern is definitely US-centric. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour if an individual can be expected to make at least $30 in tips a month. That comes out a full-time bare minimum wage of just $4,430.40/year, with tips expected to make up the rest.

Some states bump that a little higher, but even with those adjustments, the vast majority of states still pay tipped workers below minimum wage. So we may think of tips as a bonus for "doing it properly," but, in practice, US tipping culture makes precarious workers dependent on thousands of strangers, each of whom makes an on-the-spot judgment about whether or not the worker deserves the bare minimum necessary for survival—and they're making that judgment based on whether their mozzarella sticks are lukewarm.

I wish we could nuke tipping from orbit, or, at least, bring everyone up to a living wage so that it actually is a matter of tossing someone a few bucks for their trouble, rather than a matter of life or death.

Also, people going to take cash if that's what's on offer, but bills are definitely a health risk right now. So it might be better to tip digitally, at least in the short term?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:28 AM on April 10 [41 favorites]


The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour if an individual can be expected to make at least $30 in tips a month. That comes out a full-time bare minimum wage of just $4,430.40/year, with tips expected to make up the rest.

By law, employers are supposed to make up the difference to the equivalent minimum wage if the tips don't get there, so technically it's a guarantee of at 15k a year. Which is still below poverty line wages given that the last time it was raised was in 2009.

On a separate note, we have a separate kind of hell here in the US called independent contractors, which these instacart workers are classified as, so they're not even guaranteed the minimum wage hourly employees are. Thus, people who think tipping instacart workers should be some sort of reward instead of supporting the bare earning for the worker should probably refrain from using the app entirely. Instacart as a company can also go to hell for the games they play with their workers.
posted by Karaage at 7:47 AM on April 10 [10 favorites]


We tip the shit out of our Instacart driver, because it's basically combat pay at this point. How would you not? We gave the last guy $30.

Everything is terrible. 2020 sucks.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:51 AM on April 10 [34 favorites]


I join the crowd of people who don’t want to believe anyone could be quite that monstrous. It’s a special kind of person who would do something like that and I fundamentally cannot understand them.

About 3/4s of my working life has been in some form of customer service or another, sometimes tipped, so I have zero problem whatsoever believing that this is something customers are doing. I once got tipped less than a dollar on a $100+ table on Christmas Eve. There is no bottom to consumer depravity.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:07 AM on April 10 [22 favorites]


I have no way of knowing if it's because their managers discourage cash tips, or if it's fear of contamination, or if no one actually reads the delivery instructions.

I had to holler at my pizza delivery driver last week because, despite leaving a large, super-simple, and visible note taped to the door about where to leave the pizza and where to collect his cash tip, he said he didn’t see it. I suspect they’re just too frazzled to do anything but drop food and run. (He came back for it, thankfully.)
posted by mykescipark at 8:19 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


I believe it. The upper middle class in Manhattan has a lot of rotten apples, combining entitlement and anxiety in a way that produces grotesque behavior, especially if you can justify it as being "for your family." Add to that the douchebro young finance types who fancy themselves game theorists and who neither have nor understand the need to mimic a soul, et voila.
posted by praemunire at 8:32 AM on April 10 [17 favorites]


There’s also the really unpleasant sector of society who believe that “service jobs are supposed to be starter jobs and not the support for a family”/ “these people should have gotten an education if they wanted better pay.” Lots of people sincerely believe this and use it to justify voting against a decent minimum wage or tipping above 15%. Or just treating service workers like their personal servants.
posted by corey flood at 8:47 AM on April 10 [27 favorites]


The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour

That's just disgusting. The UK minimum wage for over 25s comes to $10.89 per hour (it's lower for under 25s); the 'living wage' that should be the minimum but is only optional, is calculated from minimum cost-of-living (outside London) and comes to $11.61; and we're low compared to most of the rest of western europe. Health care is mostly free though, you're almost entirely exempt from payroll taxes, and any tips are on top.

The big gotcha is of course treating employees as contractors so most labour laws don't apply, ala Uber, though the courts are starting to crack down on the practise.

UK labour protections are pretty shite really, so I don't even know what word to use to describe them in the US. Obscene? Inhuman?
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 9:01 AM on April 10 [7 favorites]


I have no way of knowing if it's because their managers discourage cash tips, or if it's fear of contamination, or if no one actually reads the delivery instructions.

In my experience, it's that they don't read the delivery instructions. I live in a back unit with an empty house in front, you can see my unit from the street and there's no gate or anything, you just have to walk up the driveway. Doesn't matter which delivery service I use they always try to deliver to the front house even though I put clear delivery instructions that it's the back unit, you need to walk up the driveway, the color of my house, the color of my car parked in front, etc. I also obviously put the unit number in the address. I mean, it's not a big deal, I've never complained about it, but it happens like clockwork.
posted by primalux at 9:03 AM on April 10


So if you can't afford to tip over the norm you may not get a grocery delivery? That's kind of awful.
posted by Stoof at 9:04 AM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Instacart could query their database, find occurrences of these and block those users either outright, or until they paid the original tip to unlock the account.

Y’know— if they gave a shit.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:14 AM on April 10 [13 favorites]


Whenever I see tipping shenanigans and shady companies, I remember that large corporations, by design, are sociopaths. A competitive company would never tip. A tip is an added expense, incurred after service, for which there is no likely short or medium term value. It is an optional inefficiency.

We have an entire segment of the economy that relies on the difference between human compassion and corporate indifference, and we're letting the companies expand into it. How could this go any way but terribly?
posted by Richard Daly at 9:19 AM on April 10 [13 favorites]


Instacart isn't a great app -- or at least it sucks now, no idea how well it works when there's not a pandemic on -- but I absolutely believe people are playing games with tips. This is an "invisible" sin in that only the shopper and the recipient of the groceries know about it, and there are so many orders going right now that people wouldn't have to worry about getting the same shopper they already screwed over. It's also an easy fix. IF Instacart wanted to stop this, they could simply make it so that people aren't allowed to decrease tips after the order is placed. Add? Sure! Decrease? No. You're allowed to be cheap, but you have to be upfront about it.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:34 AM on April 10 [10 favorites]


> So if you can't afford to tip over the norm you may not get a grocery delivery? That's kind of awful.

Yeah, sounds like it's basically a bidding war... except that customers can retroactively reduce their accepted bids.
posted by smelendez at 9:36 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


There are other solutions, on occasions when there is a real reason to reduce tip:
- instacart could require you to phone in to explain why and what was wrong
- instacart could block you if you change tip after delivery more than once a month (or whatever)
- instacart could highlight your account as someone who changed tip after delivery so people could avoid you
- instacart could only allow a reduction in tip of 20%

But Instacart doesn't care and there are lots of assholes who just want people to do stuff cheaply.
posted by jeather at 9:38 AM on April 10 [11 favorites]


We tip the shit out of our Instacart driver, because it's basically combat pay at this point. How would you not?

I tipped 3x what I normally would for this reason, but then the person who delivered was not the person on their Instacart profile. So it pisses me off if the woman who delivered possibly wasn't getting the tip. I thought about doing cash next time but there's the germ factor and the 'people stealing things off my door' factor so I'm not sure what is best. I don't think I can fit weeks of groceries for 2 people on my bike.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:40 AM on April 10


but am also wondering if part of it could be a software bug

no. it's because people are horrible.


Why not both? I totally believe some minority of people would actually do this, unfortunately. However my limited experience with the app is that it generally sucks - maybe part of that is current demand, I don't know. I would probably tip both in the app and in cash if I used Instacart (which I do not).
posted by photo guy at 9:42 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Instacart had a $20 off your 1st order over $50 offer, so I placed an order just as things got crazy here. I put in a 10% tip, and left money clipped to the wheelbarrow in the driveway where I requested the order be placed. My order got delayed and delayed for hours, then abruptly cancelled. They were blase about it by email and it made me dislike the company intensely. I mistrust gig-economy companies when it comes to tips, cash works well, and can be disinfected and put in an envelope or baggie for safety.

Of course, there are no delivery slots available now. There are some groceries I would enjoy having, but I'm fine for now. On Nextdoor, people are offering to shop, so when I get desperate for oranges or whatever, I'll work that out. I still have fresh cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions and frozen veg and juice. I even have flour and yeast;when the CDC recommended buying shelf-stable supplies, I did my best.

However, I drank the last beer last night when, after a cold, gloomy, rainy day it turned to appreciable snow, and then the power went out. There's wine, but if it warms up, beer is going to feel essential. 1st world problem, but probably really fairly universally shared.
posted by theora55 at 10:00 AM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Here's a way to find out something about whether there's a glitch-- does the tip get deducted from your account?

This isn't going to address the general situation. It's very plausible that there are customers scamming the workers *and* a glitch, but at least we could find out whether it's a glitch some of the time.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:00 AM on April 10


If you live in a place that is dense enough to have Instacart, you almost certainly have other options that are less shitty.

I ordered grocery delivery from Hyvee, which comes from a central warehouse, but they're so overwhelmed right now that they sent my order via Door Dash.
posted by LindsayIrene at 10:05 AM on April 10


Tipping is a fucking stupid, archaic and redundant custom. Just fucking pay people what it costs to do the fucking work.
posted by bookbook at 10:11 AM on April 10 [12 favorites]


Imagine if people were just paid fairly and consistently for the labor they perform, rather than having to rely on the whims and fancies of individual customers. The mind fucking boggles.

Then the services would all immediately close since no one would pay the actual cost.

It’s not like Instacart et al invented the concept of grocery delivery. It’s always been there, it just was expensive enough that people got their own groceries.

The real innovation the “Gig Economy” companies have done is convince the cohort that would rather die than have a part time job at McDonalds that getting an even lower paying and terrible job at Uber or InstaCart is somehow better.
posted by sideshow at 10:13 AM on April 10 [8 favorites]


The idea of tipping as a reward for good service is obsolete. Because tips have essentially filled in the gap between actual wages and, in some cases, even minimum wage, they should be thought of as an obligatory surcharge.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:13 AM on April 10 [7 favorites]


The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour

I remember reading this in Nickel & Dimed years ago and thinking the same thing I am now: what the fuck?! Why are people settling for this? I made $3.45 an hour working at Burger King when I was 14 -- 38 years ago!

I understand that people are in desperate situations who accept this kind of work. They're dirt poor and run ragged, powerless, and often uneducated.

HOWEVER, what about every other fucking person that isn't making that amount -- the middle and upper classes who are neither dirt poor or uneducated? The maybe-not-powerful-but-at-least-not-powerless? Why are they not standing up for these people? Why are they not the voices who say that this is unacceptable?

I love California and other parts of America that I have visited, but you know what: the USA is a shithole country. It treats its citizens like garbage and will continue to do so, probably for the rest of my life and well beyond. Truly disgusting.
posted by dobbs at 10:25 AM on April 10 [9 favorites]


Imagine if people were just paid fairly and consistently for the labor they perform [...]
Then the services would all immediately close since no one would pay the actual cost.

There are plenty of useful tasks with real economies of scale or division-of-labor. They don’t include delivery from anywhere at a moment’s whim, but there’s a lot of stuff that can be hired out on a route and schedule. Which has gotten way more flexible with the internet, and (while we’re dreaming) the worker-owned companies would be weighting routes/schedules by all costs to the workers, not just the tiny subset physics and employment law currently enforce.
posted by clew at 10:29 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


There is absolutely no reason to give Instacart the benefit of the doubt here. They have been ripping off their workers over and over and over again, changing the scam (and usually blaming the software) every time they get caught and it hits the news, for at least a year and a half. One of the old scams was paying the worker less than standard (horrible) rate if the tip was "too high". They are also, because of course they are, doing everything they can to prevent drivers from unionizing.

Instacart is garbage. It is also a service people want and need. If you use them because you need to, you should figure out a way to tip them generously in cash with no reference to it in the app, because yes they will absolutely search for and take advantage of that to penalize the drivers.

There was once a time where you'd actually see the same driver on a regular basis, but people only work there now out of desperation for a brief time. I had a young pregnant woman burst into tears on my doorstep and explain she was just trying to make a little extra money for her baby (I'd just said "thanks so much!" and handed her $15 on top of the average tip I leave electronically to keep Instacart from doing some other bullshit) and that was pretty much when I stopped using them if I could at all help it. I don't mind handing over a lot of cash for doing my shit work for me, but that's clearly not enough to make up for all the crap they have to deal with.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 AM on April 10 [8 favorites]


I remember one place I worked delivering pizza there was a character limit on delivery instructions you could enter. But it didn't tell you what it was. It let the customer type as much as they wanted but only sent the first ~60 characters to the store.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:56 AM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Instacart is no better than Door Dash. If you live in a place that is dense enough to have Instacart, you almost certainly have other options that are less shitty. Don't use this bullshit if you can avoid it.

In my area, markets that used to run their own delivery service have switched to Instacart. AmazonFresh doesn't cover my area, or has suspended service here. AFAIK, my only other option is.....Walmart.

I've stopped even trying to use Instacart anyway. Having perishables arrive at any unknown time in between one to seven days doesn't work.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:05 AM on April 10


So if you can't afford to tip over the norm you may not get a grocery delivery? That's kind of awful.

You know what you get in countries with a strong minimum wage and no tipping culture? Supermarkets just own actual trucks and employ delivery drivers and they deliver your groceries to your door. Incredible. The trucks are even refrigerated, and there is a whole economy of scale that comes from having multiple deliveries per truck, from having dedicated employees in the shop picking your groceries. I had a chat to a driver a while back when he was dropping off our order and he was getting AUD $23 an hour, although he told us the company was doing some dirty deals to only have to pay new employees only $21. Still though.
posted by Jimbob at 11:30 AM on April 10 [32 favorites]


Then the services would all immediately close since no one would pay the actual cost.

Right here in this thread there are people saying they tipped $15 or $20, so clearly there are some people willing to pay that.

The real innovation the “Gig Economy” companies have done is convince the cohort that would rather die than have a part time job at McDonalds that getting an even lower paying and terrible job at Uber or InstaCart is somehow better.

I mean, it couldn't possibly be that these workers actually find that the gig economy job is better somehow, whether hours or pay or work environment or even availability? No, it must be that they're easily-manipulated chumps.
posted by alexei at 12:03 PM on April 10 [4 favorites]


The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour

This is irrelevant regarding Instacart since these are independent contractors, not employees. There is no minimum wage at all because they don't get wages.

They don't get unemployment insurance, they don't get health insurance, they don't get disability insurance, they don't get sick pay, they don't get vacation pay, they don't get retirement benefits. And they have to pay both halves of FICA taxes, the employer share and the employee share, so lose 15% right off the top of their earnings even before income taxes.
posted by JackFlash at 12:07 PM on April 10 [11 favorites]


it couldn't possibly be that these workers actually find that the gig economy job is better somehow, whether hours or pay or work environment or even availability? No, it must be that they're easily-manipulated chumps.

No, they're vulnerable people in precarious financial situations trying to guess which is the least bad of a lot of not-great options, and being lied to in sophisticated ways about the quality of some of those options. I can understand how some people might not appreciate what people do under such circumstances.

This "oh people prefer the gig economy to regular employment with a guaranteed paycheck" bit has been blown up so often and so thoroughly that it's hard to imagine anyone putting it forth in good faith in reference to lower-income workers generally.
posted by praemunire at 12:20 PM on April 10 [24 favorites]


Um. The tip part of any gig economy app is always the buggiest part. Do you seriously think that the creeps that run these apps are going to waste development capital on something that benefits their workers?
posted by sexyrobot at 12:21 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Like most things in America, tip/wage stuff varies _heavily_ by state.

In California, it does not matter if you are tipped or not, everyone has the same minimum wage (statewide right now thats $12-$13 an hour, going to $15 for everyone by 2023 and already $15 in places like LA). Tips are always extra on top of wage, which doesn't mean you shouldn't tip but does mean workers are at least guaranteed minimum wage for real [I still tip 20%].

This is irrelevant regarding Instacart since these are independent contractors, not employees

Also depends on state: probably not true in California, where AB5 makes a lot of that "independent contractor" shenanigans illegal.

Of course California is still behind many places in Europe/etc on this stuff, but it shows the difference between states that in some places, tipped workers are only guaranteed $2.13 and no benefits, and in other states like CA its an absolute minimum of $12 before tips [and rising] and the companies don't get out of treating them like employees.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:35 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


2020 sucks.

Like Fuck 2016, a meme can carve our worldview down to a miserable little basement window overlooking a sewage drain.

Meme safe, meme hope.
posted by fairmettle at 12:38 PM on April 10


A couple weeks ago, I started coughing badly--no other COVID type symptoms other than a headache the night before, but the cough was really bad, and so I couldn't really go to the store. I keep seeing my neighbors, who work for Amazon HQ and mostly don't speak to me in a rather comical avoidance, get constant deliveries, but I've never been able to get a slot and couldn't really ask if I could throw in with them. I was at least able to get signed up for Instacart, which kept pushing out a delivery date, but I was relying on the pretense of getting something eventually (I did, yesterday). There are no other services except the Imperfect Food thing, but if you need something specific, you have no guarantee of getting that, and there's a milk delivery which I signed up for a long time ago, but they're family run, and utterly slammed (looks like I might finally get some next week, which I plan to tip for big time).

I live alone, and none of my friends live anywhere near me, and the area where I live was just cut off suddenly when they closed the only bridges that lead directly here. Fortunately, I do have one friend who could bring me some things when she delivered to her parents a little south of me, but I didn't feel like I could give her this huge grocery order when she was already shopping for her folks and her own family, and giving me some of her extra flour. The grocery near my house doesn't have any delivery service.

I make shit wages too in my work (many of my clients print in China, so work has been nonexistent for months), but it simply never occurred to me to "bid" through my tip. I'd been told over and over not to tip in cash because germs, but this is all making me rethink things. I really, really didn't want to use Instacart, I think they're evil, and apparently, shoppers don't always get the tips if they're not the drivers--I hate making someone risk their life for me and I don't even know if I have this damn disease or not, don't know if they'll get their tip.

A lot of stuff was mixed up, like I got a tiny milk carton when I'd ordered a half gallon, but I was like, I'm not going to do the "problem with your order" thing for someone who risks their health to get me this stuff for shit wages. I can suck it up, until I'm okay to go out in public again. I really hated most my privileged friends all yelling at me to get grocery deliveries, like it was this easy thing I could snap my fingers for, as if I'm like my neighbors who work for one of these evil companies and get all the advantages but would never share their advantage with anyone else. Delivery is very different on the West Coast than in the East Coast cities. I hate being over a barrel, but I really felt like I didn't have much choice. And that's exactly what they rely on.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:40 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


If the gig companies can't beat AB 5, or get the voters to repeal or modify it, there's a good chance they'll just stop operating in California. For the time being, they're all fighting re-classification and enforcement.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:40 PM on April 10


They may well stop operating, which just proves their business model only works if they are allowed to exploit workers and they shouldn't be operating anyway. So I think that would be AB5 working properly.

If there _is_ a sustainable business model, AB5 will open that up as they wouldn't be competing with the intentionally-awful model of places like Uber and Instacart.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:44 PM on April 10 [9 favorites]


Yay!? If you can't operate ethically you shouldn't be operating at all.

I have absolutely no problem at all believing that if a system allows people to retroactively get out of paying after a service is delivered some percentage of the public is going to do so. It's the Trump modus of operation writ petty. Some people are going to rationalize it (they didn't follow the delivery instructions to a T) and some people are just always "fuck you, got mine". The gig economy is set up to enable this because it prevents building a relationship between the delivery people and the customers. (I think back to a friend who delivered pizza for a few different pizza places in town at different times. They all had a do not deliver list and there was about a 75% overlap of the different list. We speculated that there were some people who couldn't get a pizza delivered from anyone because they were on everyone's list.

Tipping as an excuse for reduced wages is so obviously barbaric. But I have no problem with tipping as an unexpected reward for above and beyond service.

One advantage of Canadian money is it is impervious to household chemicals for the most part. If I was still in a cash business I'd have something like a plastic peanut butter jar that I would dump the cash in. When I got home I'd add water, bleach and soap and agitate for a couple minutes. Dump, rinse, let dry.

I don't think I can fit weeks of groceries for 2 people on my bike.
This is getting into the weeds but one of the things that can make bike shopping, if you do it regularly, much easier is getting a bike trailer. No for everyone obviously and not an immediate solution for pandemic response chopping. However they are great IME. Many of them fold up pretty small, and they aren't completely impossible to attach/detach. They are a bit awkward to ride with at first. But if you re-purpose a side by side child carrier I find a greater proportion of people actually give you decent room on the road than riding without.

posted by Mitheral at 12:45 PM on April 10


So I think that would be AB5 working properly.

Perhaps for some sense of "properly." It wasn't promoted for the purpose of depriving workers of their only income. It's not as though everyone working Instacart has turned up their nose at a McJob, or that those jobs are really much better.

Unemployment benefits are temporarily boosted, but the AB 5 fight will be playing out after Covid.

And if Uber and Instacart do leave the state, I'd be surprised if there weren't a huge voter backlash.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:46 PM on April 10


dobbs: “HOWEVER, what about every other fucking person that isn't making that amount -- the middle and upper classes who are neither dirt poor or uneducated? The maybe-not-powerful-but-at-least-not-powerless? Why are they not standing up for these people? Why are they not the voices who say that this is unacceptable?“

I’ve asked people that before. The answer has always been some variant of “Fuck them, I don’t want to have to pay for that.”, even from people who’ve lived through significant hardship themselves and who one might expect to be more compassionate towards others.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 12:47 PM on April 10


By "other options that are less shitty" I definitely didn't mean other gig-economy apps.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:56 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


It wasn't promoted for the purpose of depriving workers of their only income.

Sure, but whats the alternative? Allow businesses like Instacart to exploit employees? Any worker protection laws are going to raise costs on businesses, since the main reason businesses fail to do these things is money.

So you could repeal all regulations and have Libertarian Land, but I at least certainly don't want that. Without that, there's always a case that "if we repeal this regulation some more people can have jobs, although those jobs are super low pay and require crazy hours and have no health insurance and...". And yeah, there's always the argument "well, isn't that better than no job?".

If you're not a libertarian, then it's just a question of where to draw the line. I think AB5 is clearly on the "good" side of that line, and it almost certainly will make some companies unable to operate in California. Just as child labor laws would make a company that relied on cheap child labor unable to operate, and closure of those would in fact hurt some families economically that were relying on their children's income to survive.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:01 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


In other words, it's easy to tweet "Instacart shouldn't exist," but then you also have to explain what the people who have no alternative should do when it stops existing. In this actual world that requires money for rent and food, not an anarcho-communitarian fantasy world. People can't eat hyperlinks to benefits they may never receive, and won't last long enough if they do.

Regulating what people do to subsist out of existence because before providing an alternative on the basis that they're better off without that work is callous, paternalistic and scarcely more ethical than the exploitation.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:02 PM on April 10


So you would undo all the existing laws that have done that as well? Because AB5 is just the latest in a long string of laws that make some businesses unsustainable.

Other examples: requiring overtime pay, requiring businesses to provide health care and benefits to full time workers, requiring safety gear for workers, etc. All of these cost money and all result in a previously-sustainable model becoming unsustainable. I don't see why AB5 is any different.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:05 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


Lumping all labor law together as 'making some business models unsustainable' isn't very useful, although I suppose if you care more about abstract policy then about what happens to the workers it affects in the current labor market, and are willing to bloodlessly shrug off forcing people who rely on gig jobs that won't be replaced into homelessness, etc, then it isn't any different.

It was clear gig work needed reform, and it's not an easy problem, but in my view AB 5 has made something of a mess of it. I think it would have been better to accept that this kind of work will exist in the current economy and to recognize it and regulate it as its own class (including for the purpose of benefits) rather than trying to force it into a traditional employment relationship (and some of the reform proposals are along those lines). That separate regulation could then be tuned to fit those workers' needs over time. Regulating the gig relationship without trying to force reclassification might have been less subject to challenge going into effect, for more immediate worker protection. But this isn't a California or AB 5 specific thread, so probably best not to get too deep in the weeds.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:31 PM on April 10


Thanks to this thread, I just gave my InstaCart shopper/deliveryperson a $40 cash tip in a Ziploc bag sprayed with Fantastik and carried by my nitrile-gloved hands. We greeted each other from more than six feet apart in the building's vestibule, both wearing gloves and masks (I had a box of four lightweight surgical masks with the upper wire sitting in my closet for untold years -- can't even remember why I had them). She put down all of my grocery bags at the foot of the stairs, and I lobbed the Ziploc at her from the top step.

Fuck those assholes for stealing tips, and fuck COVID-19 in particular.
posted by tzikeh at 2:01 PM on April 10 [7 favorites]


>This is irrelevant regarding Instacart since these are independent contractors, not employees

>Also depends on state: probably not true in California, where AB5 makes a lot of that "independent contractor" shenanigans illegal.


Nope, Instacart is still fighting AB5 in court so they still are classifying their workers in California as contractors. Same with Doordash and Uber and Lyft. Meanwhile, they are each pledging millions of dollars in an effort to overturn AB5 in the next election.
posted by JackFlash at 2:11 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


We've had a real-world example given -- in an Anglosphere economy -- of grocery delivery services happening before the disaster with adequate worker pay, so could we please not talk as though the gig economy is the only way to provide services?
posted by clew at 2:16 PM on April 10 [9 favorites]


Could we please not talk as though there used to be as many of those jobs as there are gig jobs now? Or that the "Anglosphere" is one labor market? A lot of gig workers are noticeably not "anglo."

It took a literal plague to make gig workers eligible for unemployment. We shouldn't put people out of work without being willing to look after them.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:26 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


it's easy to tweet "Instacart shouldn't exist," but then you also have to explain what the people who have no alternative should do when it stops existing.

It's only really existed outside very limited markets for maybe two years, and still does not exist in many. Like I said above, it's a needed service, but not actually one that has existed for very long or that the majority of Americans have as an option; most people have to figure something else out. Grocery stores have been struggling with making this work for a long time - Peapod has failed out and relaunched at least once in every area I've lived in the past decade, Amazon Fresh (and Prime Now) has entered and left my (suburban Los Angeles! not a small market) area twice in the past three.

In the past, I think the big glitch has been that people want the service but don't want to pay for it, and the reason Instacart et al have stayed afloat thus far is by putting the bulk of that liability on the independent contractors to eke out some penny or two of margin. I will be curious to see if Current Events lead to the stores getting back into the delivery business in new ways*, and presenting the deal a whole lot more as "you're paying for this service because it is a service" and hopefully paying a reasonable wage as a selling point.

*Honestly, I'm surprised that Walmart in particular hasn't gone after the Amazon market by offering local delivery, including a subscription service. If one of my grocery store chains would drop me a standing order of paper goods, allergy meds, and coffee plus routine groceries like soda, booze, meat, produce, I would fling fistfuls of money at them and finally get rid of the last couple things I buy from Amazon. If they could do our pool chemicals, air filters, and dog food, I'd have almost no need for routine traditionally-shipped supplies.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:35 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


I'm also curious to see if the way Current Events are demonstrating it's not actually impossible to include gig workers and contractors and etc. in the unemployment system will change the discussion. If we can literally print trillions to do fiscal bailouts, arguments that we can't afford to keep expanded safety nets will ring especially hollow. Hopefully, across a wider political spectrum than before.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:43 PM on April 10


If you're someone who really needs it, memail me and I'll tell you one way to get Amazon Fresh delivery slots (it's not guaranteed, but at least you won't need to stare at your laptop the entire time).
posted by airmail at 2:53 PM on April 10


In my area, markets that used to run their own delivery service have switched to Instacart.

Yep. I used to get Grocery from Safeway. The refrigerated truck would pull up and the driver would bring me my stuff. Always friendly, always pointed out what was out of stock etc. Cold and frozen items were cold and frozen.

Then they switched to using Instacart. I got delivery once. The driver showed up with my stuff in small bags, out of her backseat. Who knows how long she had been out delivering other things.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 2:53 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


This thread has forced me to re-realize why I deleted all of these horrible apps from my phone over the last few years (not just instantcart, but uber, lyft, grubhub and the like). I redownloaded grubhub recently and now feel really shitty that I did that.

Fuck all these companies, their founders, their funders and yes, fuck every person that works directly for them. I know people need to work, and I know nothing is a simple black and white thing, but come on . . if you're a programmer or marketing drone at one of these places . . how the fuck do you live with yourself when you're company's whole business model is squeezing people, consumers and society like this?

Anyway, maybe easy for me to say that from my position, and hey, I obviously have used these services myself, but man, at least for me, enough is enough. I'm so done entertaining that this whole sector of the tech world is anything other than a pile of steaming garbage that I want nothing to do with.
posted by flamk at 3:10 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


I tip gig workers in cash, because (1) the company will use tips in their "Our workers make $15/hour on average!!" statements - they don't need to say "...because the customers usually give them a few dollars more than we do," and (2) it doesn't wind up going on their paycheck income statement.

Until we have a sensible tax system that provides free medical care for everyone below the poverty line and taxes corporations more than their waged workers, I support under-the-table income.

And five-star reviews for anyone I think should keep their job. If they're horrible in some way, 1-star review. (Haven't done this yet; none of my drivers/delivery people/etc. have been horrible.) But if I don't want them fired, it doesn't matter how mediocre they were: they get a 5-star review.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:32 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


(I meant Anglosphere in the common economic sense, roughly `as much free market as possible'. Not an ethnic descriptor except, historically, that it was used to mean not German or French, as those economies were just as industrial and capitalist and free market but had more worker protections than the US and UK and Commonwealth. Plus overdetermination. Sorry.)
posted by clew at 4:04 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


The driver showed up with my stuff in small bags, out of her backseat. Who knows how long she had been out delivering other things.

My Safeway still has regular delivery, which is unfortunately a bit hit and miss -- it got better for a while, but the last time I got a delivery, right before all hell broke loose, they literally only left half the items and I still haven't gotten a reply to my request for a refund on those items. You can't even email them about it -- you have to use a form on their website, which doesn't even send you a copy of the email.

On the other hand, at least they actually keep items refrigerated. The one time I tried 'partner' delivery due to no regular slots, the frozen items were in a grocery bag with an empty and warm wrapper that apparently once had dry ice in it, long long ago. The ice cream was soup.

And right now you can't get a delivery slot of any kind, so I've been using my CSA which lets me add on grocery items like eggs and milk (expensive but an absolute blessing), and Target for most dry goods.
posted by tavella at 4:14 PM on April 10


This thread has forced me to re-realize why I deleted all of these horrible apps from my phone over the last few years (not just instantcart, but uber, lyft, grubhub and the like)

There are some people (e.g., the mobility-impaired) for whom this is just not feasible, but you'd be surprised at how manageable it is live without these things in a big city if you're willing to put up with some inconvenience. (Grubhub/Seamless isn't on quite the same model, though; they're still rent-seekers, but the delivery workers are restaurant employees. At least in NYC? Maybe it's different elsewhere.)
posted by praemunire at 6:55 PM on April 10


Grubhub/Seamless isn't on quite the same model, though; they're still rent-seekers, but the delivery workers are restaurant employees. At least in NYC?

I do not think NYC is an exception, but I could be wrong. Grubhub drivers are independent contractors just like all the others. Grubhub has fought several court cases on the issue, including defying AB5 in California. Grubhub has contracts with various restaurants to provide delivery service but the drivers are not employees of the restaurant.
posted by JackFlash at 7:19 PM on April 10


Possibly Grubhub changed it when they bought Seamless? For many years Seamless (then known as "Seamless Web"!) was just the web middleman, providing the then-remarkable service of online ordering to legions of analysts and associates working late, for fulfillment by the restaurant.
posted by praemunire at 7:59 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Eat24 used to be the same way--delivery by the restaurant. I'd often see the same person whenever I ordered from a particular restaurant. That changed when it was bought out by GrubHub or DoorDash or whoever.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:15 PM on April 10


> People can't eat hyperlinks to benefits they may never receive

They'll do the same thing that pretty much every low-wage worker in places where the minimum wage has been raised to some reasonable level do, which is have a better paying job.
posted by flug at 10:40 PM on April 10


> *Honestly, I'm surprised that Walmart in particular hasn't gone after the Amazon market by offering local delivery

They do. It's free next day delivery on orders over $35, and no membership fee.
posted by fragmede at 1:14 AM on April 11


To play devil's advocate, is it possible that some people luring with these big tips and then canceling are people who have been trying for a while to get a delivery, but aren't getting picked because their tip isn't high enough? Doesn't excuse the behavior, but it points to a bigger problem if immune-compromised person on a fixed budget only has insta-cart for groceries, and can only get deliveries with huge tips they can't afford.
posted by Stargazey at 6:08 AM on April 11


As a justification for literally picking the delivery person's pocket I guess that works in a ethical to steal bread sort of way. But even if you don't mind leaving the delivery person to flap in the wind that only works as a justification if there is only a single immune-compromised person in the service area which is unlikely to be true.
posted by Mitheral at 6:45 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


They'll do the same thing that pretty much every low-wage worker in places where the minimum wage has been raised to some reasonable level do, which is have a better paying job.

Banning gig work doesn't raise the minimum wage.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:43 AM on April 11


It does - it raises it back to the legal minimum wage, because those jobs are no longer underbid.
posted by clew at 9:48 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


It does't change the "legal minimum wage."

Many of my clients have left the kind of service-sector minimum wage jobs that are being championed here for gig work, because their traditional employers were subjecting them to greater abuses with ineffective oversight regardless of the classification. The theoretical remedies available under traditional employment aren't a substitute for income (even in a very employee-friendly state, relatively speaking). The privilege on display here is not becoming.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:14 PM on April 11


« Older The radical right wants to do away with democracy...   |   Verdict: 3 out of 5 spoons Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments