(TMU) — Gig workers for companies like Instacart have been helping hundreds of thousands of people get their groceries during the coronavirus lockdown.
Considering the circumstances, one might assume that these workers are being tipped generously during this difficult time. And while this may be true in some cases, there have also been reports of customers luring workers with large tips and then taking those tips away via the app when the groceries are delivered.
CNN Business interviewed multiple Instacart drivers who were stiffed by customers after being promised large tips. The app allows the shoppers to choose from a list of different customers, and some people have been promising big tips to ensure their order gets bumped to the front of the line.
Instacart worker Annaliisa Arambula was promised a $55 tip by a customer but later got a message saying the “customer modified the tip post-delivery,” ultimately leaving her with a $0 tip. Arambula ended up making only $8.95 for the entire trip, which was paid by Instacart.
“It’s very demoralizing. I don’t pretend to be a hero, like a nurse in a hospital … but I literally am exposing myself and when I return home, exposing my own family to the possibility of transmitting this disease. When you know that it’s somebody who’s just doing it to game the system and to get their order when they want it, it’s really frustrating,” Arambula said.
Instacart allows customers to change their tip for up to three days, but workers are now asking for a 10% minimum during the pandemic. This problem has become especially complicated because stores are sold out of high-demand items like toilet paper and soap, and customers are using this as an excuse to reduce the tip.
Carilyn, an Instacart shopper from Florida, said that some customers were using missed items as an excuse to take away the entire tip.
“I tried my best. A lot of people are detached from the situation going on. They really don’t see what we see. We know things are a no-no, like soap, and toilet paper, you barely find eggs if you’re lucky,” she said.
Jenifer, an Instacart employee in Pennsylvania, said that she had her tips reduced to zero when shopping for people in affluent communities.
“These are affluent communities that I’m delivering to. There’s almost no need to not tip, especially because not only is this a convenience for you but we’re in a pandemic right now,” Jenifer said.
Thousands of Instacart shoppers went on strike last week, demanding safety gear, hazard pay, and sick leave to workers affected by the virus. So far, Instacart has not responded to the demands or changed their policies in any meaningful way.
A spokesperson for the company told CNN that customers are being encouraged to tip more, and in most cases they have. The spokesperson also noted that there is a suggested default for the tip that is set at 5%, but the customer still has the option of manually resetting the tip to $0.
Last month, Instacart announced that they would be hiring up to 300,000 more employees to meet the increase in demand for delivery services.
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