Workers accuse grocery app Instacart of misusing their tips

VIDEO: Instacart workers say they're getting punished for getting a tip

SEATTLE — Workers behind Instacart, the grocery delivery company and app, say they’re getting punished for getting a tip.

People who shop and deliver for the app say the higher the tip, the less wage they make – and that the company is using customers’ tips to subsidize wages.

That's supposed to be on top and extra for the hard work that we're doing,” said Ashley Kundson, who is an Instacart shopper in Tacoma. “We'd like to be compensated fairly,” she said.

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Kundson says the problem she and other workers are dealing with is they’re getting paid less for their work, and that the problem started a couple of months ago when Instacart changed its system of how they pay shoppers.

“The decrease in our wages of at least 30 percent - it's just not fair,” Knudson said. “We can see how they're using the customers' tips to pay us less,” she said.

She said Instacart is supposed to pay shoppers at least  $10 for each shopping trip, and showed KIRO7 screenshots from a recent job.

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​She earned $12.48, but $7.46 of that came from a customer tip.

“Because this customer decided to tip $7.46, Instacart is going to pay us $5.02 cents for that order,” Knudson said. She said without the tip, Instacart would’ve paid at least $10.

Working Washington, a worker's rights group, shared an even more egregious example on its website.

It shows without a $10 customer tip, an employee earned only 80 cents for more than an hour of work.

“There's the expectation when you're tipping somebody is that the worker is getting the tip, not the company,” said Sage Wilson, a WorkingWA spokesperson.

A customer of Knudson’s said he thought his tip went straight to her on top of her pay, and had no idea about the accusations.

Working Washington says because Instacart shoppers are contract employees, the legality is unclear.

“That is a little hazy, were looking into it; a lot of people are looking into it because it's pretty galling. Certainly seems like something you see it and say, that should be illegal,” Wilson said.

The problem has Instacart shoppers frustrated.

“There are hundreds if not thousands of us that are outraged,” Wilson said. “I do this full time, Monday through Friday, I do this to support my family,” she said.

They're banding together -encouraging customers to send a message to Instacart by tipping just 22 cents- a number you can add to after the transaction to make sure the shopper gets the tip.

An Instacart spokesperson KIRO7 reached by phone denied that the company is mishandling employee tips.

The company said that by changing it’s pay structure, it intended to bring more transparency, and that shoppers' pay would stay the same.

When KIRO7 asked about the screenshots and complaints in the story, Instacart said it would send an emailed statement.

That statement is as follows:

“We’re constantly reviewing and evaluating feedback from our shopper community to ensure they’re fairly compensated for the work they’re doing on behalf of our customers. Last year, we introduced new earnings features designed to pay our shoppers more consistently for their time and effort while also keeping average shopper earnings the same. These features also surface upfront details about orders and estimated earnings, empowering every shopper to make an informed decision on which orders they choose to accept.

We remain committed to ensuring competitive earnings for our shoppers, which are on average well over the local minimum wage. Last week, our national average shopper earnings was more than $15 per hour worked. We provide shoppers with an estimate of what they can expect to earn from all orders they accept, which includes tips. This approach is consistent with the practices of other on-demand delivery companies. Our shoppers also always receive 100% of the tips given to them by our customers. As a team, we’re deeply committed to fair compensation and welcome the feedback from our dedicated community to create the best possible shopper experience."