Biden administration blocks Trump-era rule affecting gig workers’ employment

From today’s Reuters News Service:

The Biden administration on Wednesday blocked a Trump-era rule that would have made it easier to classify gig workers who work for companies like Uber and Lyft as independent contractors instead of employees, signaling a potential policy shift toward greater worker protections.

Shares of companies that employ gig labor such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash immediately pared gains. At 2.15 p.m. ET (1815 GMT) Uber shares traded down 3.2%, Lyft was down 5.8% and DoorDash fell 5%.

“By withdrawing the independent contractor rule, we will help preserve essential worker rights and stop the erosion of worker protections that would have occurred had the rule gone into effect,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement.

“Too often, workers lose important wage and related protections when employers misclassify them as independent contractors,” he said.

Walsh told Reuters in an interview last week that a lot of U.S. gig workers should be classified as “employees” who deserve work benefits. His comments hurt stocks of companies that employ gig labor.

Walsh said in the interview that his department would have conversations in coming months with companies that employ gig labor to make sure workers have access to consistent wages, sick time, healthcare and “all of the things that an average employee in America can access.”

An Uber spokesman acknowledged on Wednesday the current employment system is outdated.

“It forces a binary choice upon workers: to either be an employee with more benefits but less flexibility, or an independent contractor with more flexibility but limited protections.”

Read the complete article here.

Grocery chains nationwide ditching in-house delivery drivers in wake of Prop 22

From today’s Business Insider:

Albertsons and some of its subsidiaries, including Vons and Pavilions, are discontinuing their in-house delivery services in parts of California and other states starting in February. The grocery chains will instead rely more heavily on third-party delivery apps, including DoorDash, to handle grocery deliveries, local news outlet KNOCK reported Monday.

“In early December, Albertsons Companies made the strategic decision to discontinue using our own home delivery fleet of trucks in select locations, including Southern California, beginning February 27, 2021,” Albertsons spokesperson Andrew Whelan told Business Insider.

“We will transition that portion of our eCommerce operations to third-party logistics providers who specialize in that service. Our HR teams are working to place impacted associates in stores, plants, and distribution centers,” Whelan said.

Albertsons didn’t respond to questions about employees losing their jobs. In Texas, the company told the Dallas Morning News that it will also fire nearly 100 employees at Tom Thumb locations.

“With COVID-19 outbreaks spiraling out of control and overwhelming hospitals across California, it is stunning that Albertsons would fire these courageous and hard-working men and women keeping our food supply secure,” Marc Perrone, international president of United Food and Commercial Workers, a major union that represents many Albertsons workers, said in a press release, calling on Albertsons “to immediately halt these plans.”

The move comes weeks after a new California law went into effect that eliminated labor protections for app-based food delivery workers and rideshare drivers, which was authored and bankrolled by gig companies.

As DoorDash, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and Postmates waged a $200 million battle last year to pass the bill, known as Proposition 22, they pointed to “independent” research claiming it would save as many as 900,000 jobs across the state (it turned out the companies had paid a combined $411,599 to the researchers behind the study).

Albertsons’ plans to cut in-house delivery and route new business to delivery companies like DoorDash, however, shows how Prop 22’s passage potentially pushes adjacent industries to consider cheaper labor options.

Read the complete article here.

Unfair ratings cost some Instacart shoppers hundreds a week

From today’s New York Times:

Bags of groceries don’t just vanish into thin air. But in case the laws of physics ceased to exist, Loreen Zahara does her due diligence. The Instacart shopper keeps receipts for purchases and even photographs them upon delivery — on a customer’s stoop or in front of their garage.

Yet when one customer gave her a one-star rating over a missing bag of pineapples and another awarded her one star and claimed an entire order wasn’t delivered, it was Zahara who suffered the consequences: a loss of hundreds of dollars of potential earnings per week.

Instacart’s order-allocation system takes the “customer is always right” mantra to new extremes, some of its professional shoppers say. The grocery delivery company presents its workforce of independent contractors with orders based in part on their in-app ratings — those with higher scores get first pick, often leaving behind fewer and less lucrative batches for everyone else. Interviews with more than 10 shoppers and receipts reviewed by The Times show a sharp decline in earnings for shoppers whose ratings drop just slightly below 4.95 out of 5 stars. Often, shoppers said, the negative reviews were beyond workers’ control.

Even though Zahara has evidence those two complete orders reached the customers’ homes, it was enough to drop her rating to a 4.94. She went from earning an average of more than $1,270 per week to $690 per week, while working the same total hours, screenshots and weekly earnings reports show.

When Zahara had a rating of 4.95, compensation for batches of deliveries available to her ranged from $15 to $45. At a 4.94, screenshots show orders dipped to $9 to $22, with those at the higher end in a different county than where she lived and typically worked.

“I just had to live with the bad ratings and bad batches and no money,” she said.

Instacart says the system was developed to ensure ratings are “fair and accurate,” and do not unfairly penalize shoppers.

To protect shoppers, Instacart automatically forgives a customer’s single lowest rating, said Instacart spokesperson Natalia Montalvo. And “ratings that are outside of shoppers’ control” are also forgiven — such as when a customer complains that requested item is out of stock at a store, she said.

Read the complete article here.

Instacart shoppers face unforgiving metrics: ‘It’s a very easy job to lose’

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Five days a week, Ryan Hartson scours the picked-over aisles of Mariano’s Fresh Market in Chicago to fill grocery delivery orders for Instacart. He clocks in for his shift exactly on the hour — if he’s even five minutes late, he’ll receive a “reliability incident.” Within four minutes he must accept any incoming orders. Any longer and he’ll be kicked off the shift and risk getting an incident. Three incidents in a week and he’s at risk of termination.

“It’s a very easy job to lose,” Hartson said.

To avoid missing orders, Hartson schedules his bathroom visits — after four hours of work, the app notifies him that he has earned a 10-minute paid break. Meanwhile, Instacart managers use the app to see if he’s running behind on his orders. The app also tracks Hartson’s customer communications, automatically searching for specific terms to ensure he’s using Instacart’s preferred script. If he doesn’t, his metrics will take another hit.

Metrics define the experience of Instacart’s part-time workforce. Measured weekly for employees such as Harston is the number of reliability incidents; the number of seconds it takes to pick each item; and the percentage of customers with whom they correspond. Some former and current employees say 5% to 20% of shoppers in a store can be fired weekly.

Even in the data-driven tech world, Instacart stands out for its metrics-oriented culture, interviews with more than 30 current and former employees as well as documents and recordings reviewed by The Times reveal. This drive toward productivity helps Instacart’s profit margins, a vital step for a start-up that recorded its first-ever monthly profit in April, as the coronavirus pandemic heightened demand for grocery delivery.

Instacart says it has eased enforcement of certain metrics during the pandemic, but shoppers say company policies often ignore the realities of the job, leaving them in constant fear of termination over things out of their control.

Instacart says it evaluates shoppers on more than just speed and efficiency. Natalia Montalvo, the company‘s director of shopper engagement and communications, said the in-store shopper role was built on the premise of “flexibility, efficiency, innovation and customer service.”

“Efficiency and fulfillment of customer orders in a timely manner is important,” Montalvo said, “but it’s just one of many factors we look at in our overall business health and growth relative to other contributors” such as revenue derived from advertising for and partnering with consumer brands.

Read the complete article here.

Amazon, Instacart Workers Demand Coronavirus Protection And Pay

From NPR News Online:

Some Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, N.Y., and Instacart’s grocery delivery workers nationwide walked off their jobs on Monday. They are demanding stepped-up protection and pay as they continue to work while much of the country is asked to isolate as a safeguard against the coronavirus.

The protests come as both Amazon and Instacart have said they plan to hire tens of thousands of new workers. Online shopping and grocery home delivery are skyrocketing as much of the nation hunkers down and people stay at home, following orders and recommendations from the federal and local governments.

This has put a spotlight on workers who shop, pack and deliver these high-demand supplies. Companies refer to the workers as “heroes,” but workers say their employers aren’t doing enough to keep them safe.

The workers are asking for a variety of changes:

  • Workers from both Amazon and Instacart want more access to paid sick time off. At this time, it’s available only to those who have tested positive for the coronavirus or get placed on mandatory self-quarantine.
  • Amazon workers want their warehouse to be closed for a longer cleaning, with guaranteed pay.
  • Instacart’s grocery delivery gig workers are asking for disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer and better pay to offset the risk they are taking.

Read the complete article here.

In major ruling, San Diego judge says Instacart will flunk AB 5 contractor test

From today’s San Diego Union-Tribune:

A San Diego Superior Court judge has ruled that Instacart is likely misclassifying some of its workers as contractors — when the law requires they be classified as employees — marking a notable step toward enforcement of the controversial new state law known as AB 5.

But the ruling came with a healthy dose of skepticism from the judge over the “wisdom” of the law itself.

Judge Timothy Taylor issued an injunction Feb. 18 against Instacart in San Diego Superior Court, essentially warning the San Francisco company that it’s failing to comply with the state’s labor laws. Instacart disagrees with the ruling, and plans to file an appeal, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

Instacart, which operates nationally and has a presence in San Diego, is an app that allows customers to place grocery orders online, which are then purchased and delivered by gig workers called “shoppers.” The labor law case, filed by San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott in September, takes issue with how the grocery delivery company classifies its shoppers.

The suit alleges that Instacart shoppers do not qualify as independent contractors under a 2018 California Supreme Court decision (Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court). It’s the Dynamex case that spurred Assembly Bill 5 to move its way through the state legislature last year, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The law went into effect Jan. 1.

According to Judge Taylor, the law makes it clear that Instacart is in violation, calling California state policy “unapologetically pro-employee.”

“While there is room for debate on the wisdom of this policy, and while other states have chosen another course, it is noteworthy that all three branches of California have now spoken on this issue,” Taylor wrote in a court filing dated Feb. 18. “The Supreme Court announced Dynamex two years ago. The decision gave rise to a long debate in the legal press and in the Legislature. The Legislature passed AB 5 last fall. The Governor signed it. To put it in the vernacular, the handwriting is on the wall.”

Read the complete article here.

Instacart and DoorDash’s Tip Policies Deliver Outrage to Workers, Customers

From today’s New York Times:

Delivery has always been a rough business. Since time immemorial, couriers have braved the elements, gotten by on meager wages and dealt with annoying customers, growling dogs and fifth-floor walk-ups, all for the chance of a big tip from a happy customer.

But thanks to two Silicon Valley upstarts, even those tips are in doubt.

This week, Instacart and DoorDash — two giants of the app-based delivery industry, collectively valued by investors at more than $11 billion — have come under fire from critics who have accused the companies of taking advantage of their workers with deceptive tipping policies. Both companies acknowledged putting customer tips toward workers’ minimum pay guarantees, in effect using them to subsidize their own payouts.

“It’s offensive, it’s unethical and in this climate, it’s a very dumb thing to do,” Matthew Telles, an Instacart courier based in Chicago, said this week.

Ashley Knudson, a Seattle-based Instacart worker, said she felt “cheated” by the company.

“I have gone from making $1,000 a week and providing for my family to now, if I’m lucky, making $600 a week,” she added.

Read the complete article here.