Shipt workers to strike over shift to opaque pay structure

Shipt workers to strike over shift to opaque pay structure
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Workers for the Target-owned grocery delivery service Shipt are striking Wednesday in protest of the company rolling out a less transparent payment structure nationwide.

The walk-off will coincide with the day that the new pay model will take effect in 12 metro areas, including Chicago, Tampa, Richmond, Va., and Portland, Ore.

Shipt shoppers are raising alarm over the change, which they say would likely reduce shopper pay by at least 30 percent based on a similar pay shift that occurred at the end of 2019.

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While Shipt previously had a simple model for calculating payouts — a 7.5 percent commission on all orders plus $5 — the model, dubbed V2, rolled out in some markets last year doles out pay based on a black box algorithm.

“We do not like the transparency because we're not able to calculate or figure out exactly how it is that we're being compensated,” Willy Solis, one of the strike’s organizers and a shopper in Texas, told The Hill on Monday.

While Shipt stresses that the model being introduced to new metro areas this week is not exactly the same as V2, the differences are hard to spot, especially since the algorithms are not made public.

“There have been certain enhancements,” Molly Synder, the company’s chief communications officer, told The Hill in an interview, clarifying later that “a lot of what is different is the transparency” in terms of numbers of items in orders and changes to orders after they’re initially placed.

In emails reviewed by The Hill to shoppers in the 12 metro areas getting the new pay structure, Shipt said that “soon, your pay will reflect your effort.”

“[W]e’re evolving our pay model to better align compensation with the work that goes into each shop,” the emails read.

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The 12 new markets will function as a test for the new model, which Shipt plans to roll out across the country “in the coming months,” according to Synder.

In an email to The Hill, Shipt said that the new model will factor drive time, number of items and store location into how payments are calculated.

While some orders may pay more and others pay less in the updated model, we have seen average base pay levels remain consistent overall, and slightly higher in some markets where we have tested this model,” the company said.

Shipt gig workers' experiences in areas where the V2 model has been tested do not line up with that claim.

Jeanine Meisner, a veteran shopper in the Kalamazoo, Mich., area told The Hill that she saw an immediate drop in the dollar amount of offers when V2 came to her area.

“With the new pay scale I felt like I was basically working for free,” Meisner said, adding that many other shoppers she knows in the area started missing bill payments with the losses from the shift.  

“For six months now we have tirelessly, endlessly provided screenshots, we've called, we've texted, we've emailed about these lowball offers that we've gotten and we’ve got nowhere, we get a cut and pasted response,” she said.

Shoppers across V2 markets felt similar impacts, according to Solis.

“Collectively we joined forces and started keeping tabs and calculating ... and shoppers were losing significant money,” he said.

One shopper in the Scottsdale area who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation told The Hill that Shipt workers in areas still on the V1 model are just “waiting for the wrecking ball to hit.”

Even if the payment drops aren’t immediate, shifting to a secret algorithm fundamentally disadvantages workers by expanding the already vast information asymmetry between them and gig-economy companies.

“For such companies, the most enticing aspect of a black box algorithm is that they never have to announce another pay cut,” a group of Shipt shoppers wrote in a Medium post. “Due to the [lack] of transparency and guaranteed pay, Shipt can and will constantly drop shopper pay.”

Wednesday’s walk-off will mark the third time Shipt’s workers have gone on strike during the coronavirus pandemic, during which the company has hired thousands of new shoppers to handle high demand as states across the country encouraged residents to avoid leaving their homes.

The gig workers are asking their colleagues to refuse all orders July 15, and calling on users to boycott Shipt to “send the message that profiteering off shoppers and customers is unacceptable.”

“This is not at all the company that we hired in with,” said Meisner, who has been working with Shipt for four years.

“I think a lot of what they do is very manipulative and it is only out to benefit their bottom line," she added. "I feel like they are making an incredible amount of money off the backs of their shoppers.”