Willy Solis describes himself as someone who never dreamed of being an activist. Last year, the 41-year-old Texan began working for Shipt, a grocery delivery app owned by Target that relies on tens of thousands of gig workers to complete fast, “personalized” deliveries in more than 260 cities across the United States. Shipt sports the airy, pastel positivity shared by many technology startups. As Shippers go about their jobs, Shipt encourages them to embody its corporate mantra: “Bring the Magic.”
But in recent months, Solis grew disenchanted by payment changes that caused many Shipt workers like him to earn less. When the coronavirus hit, Shipt failed to provide masks and gloves to all Shippers, and some workers say the company enforced “cult-like” demands that they not complain about their working conditions. Solis decided to become a workplace organizer. “I started being more understanding of what the company actually was, and what they are doing,” he told OneZero.
Organizing his workplace in the digital era was more challenging than Solis expected. There was no existing forum for workers like himself to privately interact and share their experiences. A company-run Facebook page called “Shipt Shopper Lounge,” with 115,000 members, was closely moderated by the company, and Solis says workers with grievances were “shut down” by administrators. (“Shoppers are asked not to post inflammatory, rude, insulting, attacking, trolling, or threatening posts that could be considered a hate crime,” a Shipt spokesperson told OneZero.)
As the gig economy distributes workers far and wide, many, like those at Shipt, face a dilemma over how to organize. Whereas traditional workers might commiserate over their grievances by gathering physically, contractors have no communal space for themselves — no break room, lounge, or shop floor to complain about the bosses in private. In their place are phone calls and text messages, but also virtual tools like Facebook Groups, company Slack rooms, and social media, where nothing is truly discreet, and where nascent labor movements are more at risk of being suppressed and surveilled by the…