SLAVE ECONOMY: Instacart workers to strike over pay that can be as low as $1 per hour


Seated at a dimly-lit bar, a gregarious man dressed in a scarf and beanie reflecting his favorite local sports team, explained to Ars last week why he and some of his fellow Instacart shoppers plan on not working this Sunday and Monday.

“We’re going to sign up for shifts and then when it’s time, if I’m working from 10am to 1pm on [November 19], the first order, I’m going to decline it, not accept the batch,” he said, using Instacart’s term for multiple pickups at a single retail location. “They’ll kick us off and we’ll continue to do that until they kick us off [for the day].”

The man, who goes by Ike, declined to let Ars use his full name for fear of reprisal—he also doesn’t want unwanted scrutiny from his colleagues at his full-time public sector job.

Instacart, which was founded in 2013 and has raised over $674 million in venture capital, lets customers purchase groceries online (at a markup) so “shoppers” can purchase the items directly in-store and then deliver them. Like other so-called “gig economy” startups like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and more, Instacart relies heavily on part-time or contract labor.

The San Francisco startup has been sued multiple times in recent years over what some workers say are notably inadequate wages. Instacart has agreed to pay at least several million dollars to settle the lawsuits, which will result in a typical settlement payout of a few hundred dollars per worker. The attorneys who brought the lawsuits, by contrast, stand to make millions.

The company only has about 300 full-time employees (almost entirely based at corporate headquarters), but it has hundreds of thousands of part-time, in-store shoppers; independent contractor itinerant shoppers; and contractor delivery-only workers across 154 cities nationwide.

Ike has only been a shopper for a few months, but he’s frustrated by what he’s learned from his colleagues on a closed Facebook group, which serves as an online water cooler for over 5,300 Instacart shoppers. To help report this story, Ars was invited to join this Facebook group.