Willy Solis, Shipt Shopper

Denton, TX

Willy Solis was featured on Radio Lab and talked about trying to “to crack the code of the delivery app that is slashing his pay.” He’s been working for Shipt, Target’s instant delivery service, since 2019 and organized his coworkers through Facebook to fight back against pay cuts. Solis is a father of four and a member of the Gig Workers Collective.

I started working for Shipt because I needed to save up to move my family from Texas to Florida so I could take a job in construction, and it was a way to make income quickly with a low bar of entry.

Originally, I was happy with what I was earning and the work wasn’t too bad. But about a month after I began working for Shipt, I started noticing some things that didn’t seem right to me. The app seemed to be controlling more details of my work than they should, considering they treated me as an independent contractor. It felt like my independence was being impeded on.

I worked on Thanksgiving Day and had an issue with the credit card Shipt had given me to pay with. I had to call the company to try to resolve the issue and they kept me on hold for over 30 minutes so the grocery order I had to deliver was delayed. Then, I got deactivated for delivering the order late.

Shipt wanted me to take a “refresher course” before I could get reactivated on the app, and reprimanded me for the late delivery. The issues were caused by Shipt, but the blame was put on me. Not only was that unfair, it was also overbearing and over controlling. I ended up doing the refresher course because I felt like I didn’t have any other choice.

Once I’d seen how fickle and unfair Shipt could be, I tried working for other apps to hedge my bets in case I got deactivated by Shipt again. I worked for Instacart, GrubHub, DoorDash, and UberEats.

The base premise of the work for all of those apps is the same. But each company has its own way of controlling you.

They all treated me like an independent contractor, but each one impeded my independence by controlling exactly how I did my work, including what order I did my pick ups and drop offs, which routes I drove for deliveries, when I needed to be available to work. And each had negative consequences for turning down deliveries that wouldn’t make me enough money to be worth my time.

I didn’t like that but I was stuck in a position where I needed the income.

Then came the pandemic.

Shipt didn’t protect us at all at first. They wanted us to pay for all of the basic PPE ourselves – to bear all the risks of working during the pandemic and all the costs of trying to protect ourselves.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a big increase in work. People were staying home, and we, the workers, were taking on the risks. At the time, I was the sole breadwinner for my four kids, so I had to go to work no matter the risk.

It was scary having to put myself in harm’s way thinking I could get COVID and potentially die, leaving my kids without a father. It was a terrifying reality to live. But my financial reality outweighed the common sense instinct not to go out during that time. I had to go to work and provide for my family.

I had a routine every day when I got home. Before I went into the house I would try to disinfect myself to make sure I didn’t give my family COVID.

It took a lot to get Shipt to respond to our concerns. Eventually, they started sending us the bare minimum of supplies after we spoke out.

We first started organizing on Facebook because Shipt changed their pay model so that we were all earning less money. Shipt workers found each other in different Facebook groups and then we created our own group.

At first we were organizing all on our own. Eventually, we got in touch with the Gig Workers Collective which had previous experience with media and organizing. We got very good at getting the press to pay attention to our stories. We kept getting more and more press on our issues and we were making our voices heard. We made formal demands of Shipt in the media to reverse the pay cuts.

We won some concessions from the company. We didn’t get them to change the pay structure, but we got them to offer COVID assistance pay so that if a worker got COVID they would receive some pay from the company so they wouldn’t be left without any income. It felt like a win.

Originally, it was hard for people to access the assistance. Then it got better and people started getting claims reimbursed and that felt really good.

After that victory, we organized to win back tips that were being stolen by the company. We were able to prove through crowdsourcing information in our Facebook group that our tips weren’t all coming to us like they should.

Eventually, because of our organizing and because we spoke out in the press, Target acknowledged what was going on and refunded tips to thousands of Texas workers.

Our work is far from over. Because of the pandemic, moving to Florida is no longer in my near future so I’m going to stay here in Texas and keep working and keep organizing.

All of our issues at Shipt and with the other gig companies come from misclassification.

They treat us like employees in so many ways – we have all the responsibilities of employees but none of the benefits.

If I get in a car accident while doing a delivery, I’m the one responsible for whatever happens but I should have basic protections if I get injured or damage my car while on the job. We need and deserve all of the safety-net protections of other workers, like unemployment benefits or disability if I become injured or can’t work.

Most of all, we need respect.

Knowing that Target is a part of the Coalition for Workforce Innovation makes me feel even more exploited. CWI and its member companies are trying to pinch every penny by taking more and more from workers. Workers don’t have the war chest of resources these companies have, but we’ve shown that we can win when we tell our stories and make our voices heard.

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