Apps like Uber, Instacart and Postmates initially attracted concert workers with the promise of easy money (pick up a shift during the lunch break!), Flexible hours and unlimited earning potential. The reality, however, is that the app’s employees face increasing challenges such as low wages, fraud and penalties, all of which have gotten worse in recent weeks.
According to a report from the motherboard, Instacart has temporarily suspended the accounts of Instacart workers who cancel deliveries, even in “no fault” special cases where no one was home or a minor ordered alcohol. Instacart says suspensions occur when the company “suspects fraudulent or unusual activities related to an order,”
Shoppers have complained to Facebook and Reddit groups about the policy. “Even though I did not cancel, I could not even enter the gate. The customer would not answer my calls or the agent’s calls, “wrote one on Facebook. “No payment … no groups for 24 hours!” On Reddit, a shopper wrote that they accepted an order from a store in Texas, only to find it closed early due to the storm. “[Instacart] said I would be compensated for going to the store, and assured me that my account would not be suspended. “Today, my account is currently closed and I have no way to contact them,” they wrote.
Vanessa Bain, an organizer of the Gig Workers Collective, told the motherboard that Instacart is taking away the control that gig work originally promised. “Let’s be real, with this they limit us so that we have no power to decide when we work,” she said. “It’s a situation where buyers have much less freedom of action and flexibility than they used to.”
Meanwhile, Markup reports that some Postmates customers experience phishing scams that result in hundreds of dollars in lost pay, and because so much of the communication with Postmates happens via an app, it’s difficult to get in touch with someone who can help. “In regular employment schemes, there is a corporate culture, and there are always people you can talk to. One word for that is social transparency, ”Elizabeth Watkins, senior research assistant at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, told Markup. “In concert work, they do not have this – it is called digital isolation.”
Workers in California, where Prop 22 solidified that concert workers would not be considered employees of the apps they work for, have also reported pay cuts, as companies are now not required to pay a minimum wage. A driver told the Guardian that he earns about $ 5 an hour and can get by on an eight-hour day with only $ 100 before gasoline and other expenses. Prop 22 stipulates that employees who meet certain thresholds are eligible for benefits, but apps are allowed to pay for the time when a driver is actively shopping or delivering, and not time to wait for an order or drive to a destination.
“Many drivers were tricked because they expected that they could magically qualify for benefits that the companies made it sound like they had to pay for in advance, and that the drivers would get a refund for the mileage,” said driver Ben Valdez . “They also made the drivers believe that if Prop 22 did not go, Uber and Lyft would leave the state of California because they could not afford to pay drivers as employees.”
Delivery apps like Instacart, Postmates, Grubhub and UberEats have gathered even more power in the pandemic, thanks to a hanging economy and more people relying on delivery meals and groceries than ever before. So far, they have been able to use that power to exploit concert workers and lobby for more legislation like Prop 22 around the country.