Billion-dollar corporations such as DoorDash, Uber Eats, GrubHub, and InstaCart started ramping up their cry-bully tactics against gig workers after the City of Seattle instituted new “Pay Up”-branded protections on January 13 of this year. Workers don’t want you or the brand new, business-backed City Council to fall for it. 

“They’ll cry, they’ll throw themselves on the ground, kicking and screaming like a toddler. Anything to make reasonable labor policy fail,” said driver and Pay Up advocate Carmen Figueroa.

In 2022, former Council Members Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis passed a minimum wage ordinance, something workers in other sectors have enjoyed for more than 85 years. Through messages to their customers and statements in the press, app-based delivery companies have set up a narrative that a minimum wage has actually hurt the workers this legislation aimed to help. 

But really, the companies decided, of their own volition, to pass on the cost of the minimum wage through a new fee to their customers, something the Office of Labors Standards said they do not have to do. 

“The CEOs make millions for themselves while paying us nothing,” said Michelle Balzer, a driver for Instacart. “They have the money to be paying these wages, and they're choosing to force their responsibility on the customer instead.”

“That’s unfortunate, but it’s not the workers who are being greedy for asking for a minimum wage here,” Balzer continued. “If your business relies on severely underpaying your workers, that is not an acceptable business model.”

Backfire or Retaliation?

Most recently, KING 5 posted an article under the headline, “'It's definitely backfiring': Seattle ordinance intended to help app delivery workers is 'hurting' them.” In the story, KING 5 found two workers who described slower business and thus lower wages in the 20 days between the laws taking effect and the story’s publication date. 

Balzer said it's too early to know for sure how the new law will change the volume of orders and their paychecks long-term. As gig workers have told policymakers countless times, it's a super unpredictable job. 

So far, different workers have had different experiences. For example, Wei Lin, a driver at GoPuff, used to make about $8 or $9 an hour, and now he can usually make $16. He said the raise is not enough for him to ever buy a house or become as wealthy as the CEOs he works for, but now Lin is slightly less concerned about getting priced out the next time his landlord hikes up his rent

Figueroa said that she’s making about the same amount of money since the new laws went into effect. She noticed receiving fewer orders, but she gets paid more per delivery. She chalks up the conditions on the apps to retaliation from the companies who failed to kill the bill at City Hall. As gig workers know, the companies they work for remain very opaque. They don’t know if the changes to their workflow result from shifts in the market or from intentional changes to the algorithm. 

Balzer could not say how Pay Up impacted her pay last month because she’s currently out of a job. Instacart deactivated her account in January—the new Pay Up policy protecting against random deactivation won’t go into effect until 2025. But, given her loud advocacy for Pay Up and her subsequent interactions with Instacart, Balzer feels the company may have targeted her with the deactivation. She tried to tell Business Insider this story, but it came out kind of weird. Again, worker protections did not cost Balzer her job, as their headline implies, her bosses did. 

Resist the Repeal

The apps’ bad behavior signals trouble, according to Figueroa.

“The gig companies are pissing off their customers with the fees, pissing off their drivers by discouraging tips and throttling orders, and it's all part of the plan to get it repealed,” Figueroa told The Stranger.

Gig apps haven’t straight-up called for a repeal, but a spokesperson from DoorDash told The Stranger, “Our hope is that the newly elected Council will come to the table in search of a solution that works better for Dashers, merchants and consumers in Seattle.”

Figueroa said there’s always room to negotiate for improvements—for example, maybe the companies should rethink that new fee. But a sub-minimum wage will never be a “solution that works better” for drivers. 

That newly elected council may be friendlier to companies than workers. Only one member, Council Member Tammy Morales, won without the help of big business. Herbold did not seek re-election, and Lewis narrowly lost to his rightward challenger, Council Member Bob Kettle, so the co-sponsors won’t be able to play defense. 

What’s more, labor issues fall under the purview of Council President Sara Nelson’s Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development Committee. Nelson, backed by big business in her 2021 election, voted to gut the original Pay Up policy, leaving out entire apps from the minimum wage. 

I asked Nelson’s office if they had any appetite to revisit or change the newly enacted Pay Up policy, specifically in reference to KING 5’s recent story. Nelson did not respond, but I will update this post if she does. 

Whether the new council loves Pay Up or hates it, the workers told The Stranger they are ready to fight for better working conditions. Balzer noted that the gig economy is fairly new and still highly unregulated compared to other workplaces. But the economy is growing as more and more companies use gig and contract workers to run their business.

Right now, these workers aren’t just fighting for a few extra bucks for their deliveries, they are fighting to make gig work dignified work, not a cheap avenue for bosses to bypass labor law. And if companies can’t make ends meet without exploitation, then, Wei says, “I’m taking the companies down with me.”