GoPuff drivers demand better treatment from company

GoPuff drivers demand better treatment from company
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GoPuff drivers are publicly calling on the delivery app to improve its treatment of workers for the first time as the company continues to rapidly expand. 

In an open letter released Thursday in collaboration with the labor rights organization Working Washington, 24 goPuff drivers demanded a livable wage, real flexibility and more oversight of managers. Organizers are hopeful that more will sign on in the coming days.

GoPuff — which offers fast delivery of a wide variety of products stocked in its own warehouses across the country — has seen relatively little organizing among its workforce compared to its fellow gig economy firms such as Uber, Lyft or Instacart.

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However, with the company’s growth during the pandemic to more than 450 warehouses and a surge in hiring that brought its valuation to nearly $9 billion earlier this year, that is changing. 

GoPuff provided The Hill with background information on many of the concerns raised by workers in this article but didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter after it went public.

The Hill spoke with half a dozen goPuff drivers over the last few months who described the working environment there as the worst of both worlds: all the rigid time demands and clashes with management of a traditional job without the safety net that full employment provides.

The vast majority of goPuff drivers are independent contractors, with the exception of some areas where employee status is needed to deliver alcohol, meaning they are not guaranteed a minimum wage, sick time or other basic protections. However, unlike at most gig companies, they normally work set shifts rather than working when they choose.

The earnings structure at most facilities is fairly rudimentary. Drivers get a roughly $3 commission per order, plus bonuses for reaching certain weekly delivery targets and tips. 

GoPuff guarantees an hourly minimum to all workers that varies by market that it will pay drivers if not reached through orders. 

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Workers say those rates and minimums are insufficient, especially factoring in mileage and wear and tear on vehicles. Two recent pay stubs reviewed by The Hill showed workers taking home just $4.73 and $5.14 per hour after expenses over a week.

Bradleigh Aeh started working for goPuff in Athens, Ohio, last August to help pay off her debts during the coronavirus pandemic. At first she was making close to $600 a week, but that figure dropped precipitously as more hiring resulted in increased competition for shifts and deliveries.

“It just seems as though [goPuff] will do anything they can to nickel and dime us without really caring about the outcome,” she said.

Beyond livable wages, workers are also demanding more flexibility.

The company says that workers retain the ability to decline delivery opportunities during their shifts and also have opportunities to fulfill orders when they’re not scheduled. 

Workers claim they get penalized or terminated for missing shifts regardless of goPuff’s policies and are often unable to pick up more work when not scheduled in busy hubs.

One driver who started at goPuff in 2019 after getting tired of “corporate America,” and like many interviewed for this story preferred to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said that she and her colleagues are frequently called by their manager on their day off and can be fired for missing shifts. 

“A lot of people don't like that because we're independent contractors,” she told The Hill. “It’s like you're trying to treat us like W-2 employees, without giving us” benefits.

The letter released Thursday calls on goPuff to “guarantee that available drivers can get the hours we need before hiring new drivers so we have the flexibility to work when we are available, and earn the income we depend on." 

Workers have also raised concerns about the power that managers have to arbitrarily give out assignments and discipline people. 

A veteran driver in Atlanta, Ga., told The Hill her manager had “way too much discretion,” and frequently only gives orders to workers who they personally like.

Ricky, a former driver in Colorado, described his manager as verbally abusive.

GoPuff workers are calling for clear transparent policies across warehouses to rein in the power of managers and the adoption of anti-discrimination rules. 

The final demand of the letter is to remove forced arbitration clauses — which require workers to take legal disputes to private arbitration, a legal forum with no judge or jury — from goPuff contracts.

Gig economy companies have seen increasing worker activism over the last years, especially during the pandemic. Many of those efforts have yielded positive results such as more protective gear and tip transparency.

Working Washington through its gig economy arm PayUp has previously organized campaigns with workers at Instacart, DoorDash and Grubhub.

Organizers and workers at goPuff are hopeful that coming out publicly will help shine a light on the perceived injustices in their warehouses and put pressure on the company to improve conditions.