- A new minimum wage law for gig workers in Seattle went into effect on January 13th.
- One Instacart shopper said the law created a “livable wage” for workers.
- But other issues like sudden “deactivations” need more attention, the buyer said.
This essay is based on a conversation with Michelle Balzer. Instacart driver in Seattle. Balzer was among those who championed PayUp, a series of bills designed to protect gig workers passed by the Seattle city council. One law, which requires companies like Instacart to pay contractors the equivalent of the city’s $19.97-an-hour minimum wage, took effect Jan. 13.
Business Insider confirmed Balzer’s work and identity. The story has been edited for length and clarity.
I am actually a licensed addiction counselor and have been since 2012. I left my job in January 2020 and was going to start a new job, but then the pandemic and many agencies shut down.
I started working at Instacart that year, but I was just getting my feet wet. In 2021, I went all out. My sister was a foster mom and I loved the flexibility of being able to work around my schedule and spend time with her kids.
I immediately joined PayUp. 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 say, “Don’t put money into this for your business.” I started commenting on some posts and was invited to a meeting for people organizing around PayUp. I’m kind of a fighter for what’s fair, and so it wasn’t a hard sell on me being a part of that.
I understand that concert companies are in a difficult position. Instacart has 600,000 customers. Can they really afford to pay 600,000 buyers and employ them? I don’t think their pockets are as deep. But does that mean they’re going to pay us the equivalent of $2 an hour? No. I really felt that there should be some sort of happy medium.
The way PayUp is spreading, the money coming in right now is insane. The party fee used to be $10 and is now $90.
There are some tradeoffs. Instacart has set the default tip to 0% when customers check out online – previously it was 5%. Shoppers should be paid weekly instead of cashing out their winnings immediately. If you are in Seattle, you will never be able to accept an order that goes outside the Seattle city limits. I feel like Instacart has become really tiresome with the rules and penalties.
I’ve seen a lot of people post about bad advice since PayUp started. And part of me says, “Tips are meant to subsidize income. You’re getting a living wage.”
I think we definitely led the way in Seattle with PayUp. Our goal now as a campaign is to go statewide and try to find someone to bring this to the Washington state legislature.
But there are still problems. In January, I was disabled from Instacart because a customer claimed I broke concrete into his driveway with my car. However, Instacart support said I would be reactivated after providing proof of resolution, either directly with the customer or with my insurance.
Now, weeks later, my insurance has emailed them to let them know this incident has been resolved, but Instacart still hasn’t activated me. I am considering filing for arbitration. I don’t know what else to do.
Last year, Seattle passed a law that would give us 14 days notice before being deactivated and require us to talk to an actual person about our work instead of just getting automated messages. However, it does not come into effect until 2025.
More than money, this is probably the most important aspect of this order. We must be able to defend ourselves and our treatment. People should be able to fight for the things they need to live.
An Instacart spokesperson told BI: “Due to new regulations imposed by the Seattle City Council, we are making a number of changes to how Instacart operates in Seattle. Some of these changes include reduced service options and price increases for customers, as well as payment changes for shoppers. for,” adding that “we may need to make additional changes in response to this new set of laws.”
Instacart also confirmed that it had disabled Balzer and that its Trust and Safety team “has been in frequent contact with Ms. Balzer and detailed how she can resolve the issue.”
Do you work for Instacart, DoorDash, Walmart Spark, or another gig app and have a story idea to share? Contact this reporter at [email protected]