Workers Came Up With a Brilliant Plan to Use Postmates' Exploitative Platform Against Itself

Postmates CEO Bastion Lehmann, who once told a customer, personally, to “fuck off
Photo: John Phillips (Getty)

Food and beverage delivery platform Postmates has been hard at work making enemies, mainly out of its own contractor workforce.

“I used to talk them up as far as being the most reputable company,” courier Chris Palmer told Gizmodo. He says he’s been delivering with Postmates for a year and a half in the greater Seattle area, and working gig economy jobs more broadly for close to half a decade. But the work he used to be able to make a reasonable living from has become untenable, he said. “Just this year they have cut the [pay] rates twice. ... They have these incentives to keep people motivated. They make it sound so possible,” he said, recounting how his attempts to live off gig work alone resulted in becoming briefly homeless.

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Earlier this month, Postmates changed its pay structure again for the worse, and some aggrieved drivers engaged in a relatively disorganized strike, partly because the changes hurt their bank accounts, and partly because of how quietly the company tried to sneak the new rates through. “I was one of the drivers working through midnight when the date changed to May 18th,” a driver, who did not wish to be named, told Gizmodo over Reddit private message. “My last two deliveries were under the new pay scale, and I had absolutely no idea.”

Instead of refusing to work completely, some drivers, as well as organizing group Working Washington, have come up with a plan that could turn the quirks of app-based employment against itself. They’re calling it a Blitzup.

“The blitz is sort of the Postmates word for surge,” Sage Wilson, an organizer with Working Washington, told Gizmodo. Platforms like Postmates, Uber, or Lyft all make use of some form of a “surge”—economic levers that can sometimes extract more money from customers for services, and other times ply workers back onto the road with higher pay to fulfill demand.

“The idea of the Blitzup is for workers to come together and agree together that they are going to reject jobs which are not in blitz mode for a day of action,” Wilson explained. “And the result of that, if enough people get together and do it, is that would force more—or all—of the jobs into blitz mode and would, therefore, be paying enough money.”

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“It seems like a tactic that has been arising organically from a lot of different sets of workers,” Wilson said, referencing a recent story of rideshare drivers who had allegedly colluded to artificially raises rates for riders departing Reagan National Airport in D.C. To have the best shot at success, the actual date of the Blitzup won’t be called until at least 2,000 couriers have agreed to join in the action, but in less than two days, Working Washington claims almost 1,000 drivers have already signed on.

In addition to the rate cuts, Palmer claims to have noticed fewer and fewer blitz jobs in his market lately. Uber and Lyft drivers who engaged in mass strikes at the beginning of this month claimed similar incentives had also disappeared in the lead-up to both firms debuting on the stock market. Postmates itself filed its initial SEC paperwork to go public in February and is reportedly looking to finalize the move sometime this summer.

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Of course, a permanent Blitzup isn’t a tenable tactic, merely one that’s a little more clever and less financially arduous for already underpaid workers to engage in than an outright strike. Ultimately, what the Blitzup hopes to achieve is a $6 guarantee per delivery, and for the company to begin paying for vehicle expenses and so-called “deadhead mileage” between jobs. Working Washington estimates that these changes would put Postmates on pace to pay something closer to $15 per hour.

Interested drivers can sign up for the Blitzup here.

Update 6/3/19 11:42am ET: Postmates spokesperson Vikrum Aiyer provided the following statement via email:

At Postmates, we are dedicated to lowering the barrier to work and providing our Postmates Fleet, 80% of whom work 3-5 hours per week, with the resources they need to supplement their incomes. That’s why Postmates has been working directly with policymakers & labor organizations around the country to think through a new system of worker benefits, worker pay & worker voice — fit for the flexible nature of short term work. It’s why we’re seeking a direct dialogue with Working Washington, and why we’ve been engaged with work organizations in different markets, on ways to better craft a social compact fit for the new economy. Unlike competitors, our fleet always keeps 100% of their customer tips, and those tips never eat into base earnings. These cumulative earnings gains, over hourly increments, are not only significantly higher than the federal minimum wage, but over 70% are being cashed out within minutes via our Instant Deposits program. The long term upward mobility of our Postmates on and off the platform are also why we continue to lead the industry in career development resources, health care resources, and long-term savings tools — while working with policymakers & worker voice organizations around the country to balance worker benefits with worker flexibility in the gig economy.

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Bryan Menegus

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bryan.menegus [at] gizmodo.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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