Gopuff Delivery Workers Plan National Strike Ahead of Thanksgiving

Hundreds of delivery drivers for the ultra-fast delivery company Gopuff plan to launch a one-day strike across the nation today to protest what they say is inadequate minimum pay and a lack of transparency in how the company fires drivers.

“We’re tired of the unfair treatment, the unfair wages, and the flip-flops,” said Yalewa Melvin, who works as a Gopuff driver in Philadelphia.

Some participating workers plan to not work their scheduled shifts as part of the strike, and others will refuse to fill in for them, organizers say. They hope this will have a “significant impact” on a company that promises delivery of food and goods in just half an hour.

The Philadelphia-based company, which was first started in 2013 as a hookah-delivery service for college kids, is one of many companies in the increasingly crowded fast-delivery industry, which promises to get food and other goods to customers’ doors in as little as 15 minutes.

Unlike some delivery startups, Gopuff does not work with third-party providers, instead asking drivers to pick up groceries at a company facility, run them to the customer, and then come back to the facility for the next order.  According to one company document reviewed by Motherboard, schedules go live each Thursday at noon, after which drivers must rush to fill up the slots.

“They go quick, so be prepared!” the document stated, adding elsewhere, “You do not receive subsidy for unscheduled hours.”

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Gopuff gained both notoriety and scorn over the summer when it secured $1 billion in funding at a $15 billion valuation, only to turn around and cut some workers’ pay. While the company has received more than $3 billion in funding overall, the Financial Times reported that the guaranteed pay at one Texas location dropped to $9 per hour from $20.

The startup has dealt with a number of frustrated workers who have complained about a lack of consistent work and pay.  Last month, a Gopuff warehouse in Philadelphia was “effectively shut down” by a demonstration over similar issues as part of the so-called Striketober protests.

Now, the workers are asking for the company to pay at least $20 per hour plus gas mileage; guarantee a minimum number of hours per week; allow drivers to schedule and drop shifts as they wish; only fire workers for a specific reason; and create a third-party appeals process in such cases, according to the organization Working Washington, which is helping to organize the labor action.

When Melvin, the Philadelphia driver, first joined Gopuff, she enjoyed the job. She’s primarily a hairstylist, but COVID-19 slowed down her business, and Gopuff helped her survive the pandemic.  “It was an excellent side gig. It brought in money. I loved the freedom of it,” Melvin said.

But Melvin has watched her base pay, which was originally $12 per hour, drop to $8.50, plus $3 a bag, leaving her frustrated and disappointed, she said.  She had been saving for her wedding and the changes left her scrambling to figure something out. To add to the pain, the company only told her retroactively that all pay rates are temporary.

“You never said it was temporary when you offered it to us,” Melvin told Motherboard.

Melvin said she and others have been frustrated with other pay discrepancies and inconsistencies. She said, for example, that she had never received a referral fee the company owed her.

“We watched them pay us abundantly, and then take a little bit away, take a little bit more away, take a little bit more away,” Melvin added. “We’ve done so much. It’s like a slap in our face.”

Melvin will be participating in the strike on Tuesday, as will workers at dozens of warehouses in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Alabama and Texas, according to Working Washington. A group of workers plans to also gather outside Gopuff’s Philadelphia headquarters to air their grievances. The strike includes the tagline “Go Puff Yourself”

The company has claimed in job postings that it is hoping to “redesign the future of the gig economy, not conform to the present model.” The company told Motherboard that it offers delivery partners an average of $18 to $25 per hour, which is among the highest in the industry” and that 70 percent choose to work fewer than 20 hours per week. Gopuff does adjust pay rates according to local market factors but says that most drivers earn more than their national minimum. (Drivers are paid through a combination of commission, tips, and occasional subsidies.)

But some Gopuff workers say it’s not quite what it seems, claiming that the company has instead created a new set-up that combines “the worst of both worlds,” meaning the gig economy and the regular economy. Tech companies that rely on gig worker claim such jobs allow workers freedom over their days, but Gopuff drivers have told Motherboard they in some ways face the expectations of normal employees—in that they are reporting to human managers—but don’t receive the typical benefits that often accompany such jobs, like overtime pay and unemployment insurance.  Additionally, they said that shifts disappear so quickly on Thursday that they feel pressured to grab what they can, making the idea of flexibility feel less true in reality. (The company says people who do not nab shifts in time can sign up to drive on demand.)

“They say they offer flexibility, but treat us like employees — minus the protections,” the participating workers state on a site promoting the strike. “If GoPuff calls us independent contractors, they shouldn’t let warehouse managers decide on terminating us.”

(Gopuff says drivers have complete freedom over their schedules and that fulfillment center managers do not have the authority to decide to fire them. The company claims it  is working to improve transparency around why delivery drivers might have lost access to the platform.)

The company is in the midst of a massive expansion. Just this month, the company purchased the West Coast liquor delivery service Bevmo, as well as its 160 stores, and expanded to the United Kingdom.

As a note of appreciation for their help in the company’s growing success, Gopuff sent an email Friday afternoon to their delivery partners thanking them for their “early mornings” at the facilities and the “late nights on the road,”  for “sticking with” the company during the recent  changes and for “taking precious time away from your family to deliver the Gopuff magic.” As a result, the company said they would be offering delivery drivers a thank-you gift.

“Stay tuned next week for information about free snacks,” the company wrote.

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