Workers of the world are stronger when we’re united. Our bosses know this and that’s why they spend so much time and money to keep us separated. We’re struggling against those efforts and forging unity with all workers who believe we deserve respect and dignity. Recently Shipt drivers (a company which Target owns) reached out to Target Workers Unite about how we can come together and support one another to make our jobs better. Posted below is the discussion we had in learning how Target has been treating us Target team members and Shipt drivers, as well as the similarities of policy from the corporation between our different jobs:
Shipt Drivers: We started in 2016 against Instacart, we thought it would be a one-time thing and kind of move on with our lives but we also realized if we didn’t keep fighting no one else would. so we just kept going and Shipt workers reached out to us and we’ve been trying to help since.
TWU: We were doing research on the whole issue of Shipt after we saw the article with Vice. It really got a lot of attention, we’ve been curious to see how it was going to play out since Target acquired Shipt, but as much as there might be differences we actually found a lot similarities between how they structure jobs for Shipt workers and Target workers, like how they’ve rolled out this new process at our stores called “modernization” and it’s a similar process with increasing our workload, unrealistic expectations and not really providing us the stability we need.
Shipt Drivers: Yeah we would expect there to be a lot of overlap after that acquisition, it seemed like both companies were operating in a separate capacity, but it seems Shipt has been integrated into the larger Target brand and it’s happening quite rapidly now, these noticeable changes since Target took over.
TWU: it’s like they purposely oversaturated the market with more workers than is sustainable.
Shipt Drivers: That’s what they do, that’s their answer, to just hire more people, plus they have that weird cult-like internal environment for Shipt workers. There’s really absolutely no concern about retention. The gig economy model is to hire at decent wages at first which people can sustain themselves on, which shows they know how to pay people properly, so they can build up a market and then eventually abandon any expectation of good pay and those gig workers who were used to the original standard are sort of pushed out and have to find better opportunities because they’re used to the original income, only to replace them with workers who don’t have those expectations or understanding.
TWU: That sounds very similar to our modernization process where they increase the workload while also falsely advertising they pay $15 an hour, but don’t tell you they cut the hours, overhire, and you give less time to do more work. People who are longer-term workers know how Target used to be and they’re seeing how it’s transformed. A lot of new-hires come in and they have no idea how it used to be. They see the new process and that has become the new normal as they’re really stressed out and overworked, but they have no idea how it used to be. In the meantime you have the older workers who feel like they’re being pushed out and off the floor and onto the registers because the workload they’re expected to meet is so huge they can’t meet expectations. It’s all really part of this precarious kind of living in general, it’s totally systemic and intentional by these corporations, turn these jobs into more precarious jobs. If you look at how jobs used to be structured back in the 1970s you didn’t have this idea everybody’s an entrepreneur and to sell their time, every little second all throughout the day with various little gigs, while none of it adds up to be enough. You can say the factory jobs were terrible and destroyed your body and they did, but at least you could provide for your family off of one job and have that security, whereas now there’s no guarantees, there’s no security and we definitely see how Target is exporting its model out to Shipt, all of which is largely in response to Amazon and how they structure their jobs and how they treat their workers. We just saw a report about Walmart rolling out a new model called “the great workplace initiative” which it sounds like they’re doing the same thing as Target’s “modernization” plan.
Shipt Drivers: it’s an industry-wide practice, once one company does that model all these other companies tend to jump on. The gig economy in general is bullshit, selling the idea that you can be your own boss, now you’re an entrepreneur, you run your own business, but ultimately it’s removing the responsibilities corporations once had, the regulations, depriving all these gig workers. if we’re not pushing back incredibly hard just over the idea that that Shipt drivers are misclassified, if we don’t push back it’s going to be expanded, it’s going to be at Target soon, it’s not going to be working for an hourly wage anymore, we’re going to be paid on how many transactions can be made, based on per unit, compensating people for more work at less pay, that’s the future of work.
TWU: it’s already here in some ways, thinking about jobs in the 1970s, that was one of the things the corporations started attacking was the structure of the jobs and the unions. Like re-classifying workers to become independent contractors like truck drivers, truck drivers used to have unions and now they’re independent contractors.
Shipt Drivers: that industry was deregulated and it’s been a clusterfuk ever since, it’s so bad.
TWU: One of the things we wanted to get into more was building our familiarity with what the job is like for Shipt workers. What does the average order look like? What does the whole process look like for an order?
Shipt Drivers: They’ve been pushing down the order size. The average order size is between 10 and 15 items, 30-40 item orders are not too uncommon either, but the smaller orders seem to be taking more of a hold and for some reason Shipt is actually encouraging that. The minimum is $35 for a customer order. Shipt likes to tell customers no order is too big or too small. As far as the processes are concerned it’s pretty much an online order, you pick the order, you deliver it, you have to deliver with a smile all the time and all the while giving an experience that says that it’s better than an instacart experience. You’ve heard the term “bring the magic”?
TWU: Yeah! Bring the magic! That reminded us how Target always likes to talk about being “brand”, they always want us to be “brand”, you know, and that means giving that above-average customer service and always engaging the guest, even having to refer to them as “guests”, we can’t refer to them as a customer, we’ve even had reports from Target workers who’ve been disciplined or terminated because they referred to “guests” as customers, so we get that whole emotional labor aspect. But with the modernization process it’s been very hard to do that because they’re expecting us to do more, but we’re having less face time with the customers than we did in the past. That’s something we hear from customers is that there’s not enough workers on the floor, it makes us think about the future of work in terms of almost like these corporations are driving people away from coming to the stores and pushing for this end-to-end process where you order it and it just magically comes to you. You know, who wants to come to the store and have to go to the self-checkout because the corporation won’t have enough cashiers staffed and you hate having to go through self-checkout because you’re having to give free labor to the company to do that work? So we’re thinking about the process there on the customer’s end of it and they’re frustrated too.
We’ve been doing this survey project the past year trying to get a real sense of what’s going on across stores at Target. There’s a corporate survey we have which no one takes seriously, it’s supposed to be the platform where you can air your issues and is supposed to result in change, but in reality we never see the results and everything just regularly gets worse. Anyway we did our own survey and we spent a while developing it, getting people to take it, and then processing it, we just published it not too long after the Shipt worker story broke on Vice, and Target we found out blocked our website on their servers so workers couldn’t even look at the survey if they were on Target servers, they’ve been trying to ignore and dismiss the results, but any Target worker who reads it will tell you that it accurately represents what it’s like working at Target. Also out of that we developed our Target Worker Platform, which is what we’re trying to propose as an alternative going forward, what Target workers need and how the platform is going to make it better for the customers we serve. So we’re trying to get folks to sign on with that and we are curious what are the demands that Shipt workers have? How do you organize as Shipt workers?
Shipt Drivers: The two issues are the pay cuts that are going to happen nationwide and the weird silence culture. So basically the biggest issue that we face right now is the fear of deactivation, there’s no rhyme or reason for deactivation, they won’t tell you why you were deactivated at all and that’s the biggest challenge that we are facing, the biggest push back that we’re getting, and whenever there’s any talk of trying to address those things people tend to clam up on those issues. Some people are speaking openly about things but that’s a minority right now, so right now it feels like and it looks like that Target and Shipt are making it so markets are completely saturated, and weed out the older workers regardless of what their performance is and substituting them with new workers who are going to be more willing to take lesser pay and not know how things used to be with the better pay. That’s another issue we’re trying to contend with, it’s a marketing blitz they’re doing and they’re definitely attracting new Shipt workers every day, trying to cultivate the idea they’re going to be receiving higher pay than what they actually are with the new pay system rolling out nationwide. We would say the biggest issue is that we are under extreme pressure to stay silent to the extreme. We don’t know how to overcome that other than creating more localized groups and having people meet face-to-face so they can start trusting each other as opposed to having a centralized organization they mistrust. A lot of people trust us at this point because the fact that we put our name out there and got several attacks so they’re like “okay their legit”, but some of the other people who are trying to help organize and haven’t taken that step they’re receiving push back, “what skin do you have in this game?” “who are you?” “never met you”. For us the biggest thing is going to be local organization and making sure that we reach out to new recruits that Shipt is bringing on board, but the culture you speak about at Target resembles a lot of the challenges that we’re facing, it’s resulted from the executive of Target and what they brought over from Target. I think we have a lot in common in that regard, the specific challenge that we face is that we don’t have any labor protection against employer discrimination, reason being that we’re considered independent contractors, it’s a huge challenge.
TWU: We were going to say have you thought about filing EEOC charges?
Shipt Drivers: We don’t qualify as independent contractors. One thing I wanted to expand on was just because this is one point of difference between traditional labor organizing and organizing gig workers is that we are not protected by the NLRA, we have no labor rights under labor laws, we can’t file a petition, there’s no OSHA that we get to go to.
TWU: No wonder these corporations love the gig economy!
Shipt Drivers: Job misclassification is intentional so they can avoid all the regulation, there’s no regulation in the gig economy. California started regulating the gig economy very gently, but it’s not being enforced properly. The reality is in addition to the complications of organizing in the traditional economy there are many added complications when you have misclassification, there really aren’t any formal protections for us. There’s no formal recourse for us, there is no NLRB to appeal to, no state regulatory agency, Department of Labor that’s going to come in and address any safety issues or wrongful termination or things like that. So that’s one of the additional complications to organizing in the gig economy.
TWU: Just like with the truck drivers now, they’ve been trying to build organization, but because they got that independent contractor status they have a really hard time getting traction, but also social media has become such a crucial tool now for trying to organize in these hybrid organizations.
Shipt Drivers: exactly, we wouldn’t have gotten this far without social media.
TWU: same with us, we can’t operate like the AFL-CIO, we don’t have a headquarters, we don’t have the funds to send out field organizers and all that stuff. Our only way is through a Facebook page, Facebook groups, some paid ads, and trying to build organic connections with other workers across the country, but the fear factor is real, even for private-sector workers. But one advantage we have, whether you’re a third party vendor, independent contractor, or actual employee of Target, is that if you read their SEC reports Target directly says that their public image is their most vulnerable thing, and that’s the real leverage Shipt workers have, is that Target is treating its workers badly. That Target has created a situation for y’all that’s way more draconian towards you because you have no protections versus us formal Target workers. They’ve been very hands-off towards us formal Target workers. But again we’ve found from other organizations trying to struggle against Target like this worker center in Tennessee was organizing janitors against Target, but the janitors are not formal Target workers, they’re contracted out by this third party company, and the worker center was able to show and pressure Target to drop the third party company because they were engaging in racist practices against the janitors and Target didn’t want that negative association. So we definitely think that’s an important thing for Shipt workers to consider when trying to win something like a transparent policy to speak freely as Shipt workers. And as Target workers we can definitely utilize our voice to speak out on Shipt workers behalf! We’re sure Target workers would be very interested in knowing the similarities between our jobs and learning that y’all have way less protection and are under a way more draconian system than we are because of that deregulation.
Shipt Drivers: When others see you really coming forward and telling a story, sharing experiences, being open and transparent, it has started to fracture the social cohesion that Shipt created in their official facebook groups for Shipt workers. Including the censorship, the moderation of what actually gets to be published in those groups, for a long time many folks wanted to say something, wanted to do something, wanted to speak out and have just been too fearful, but what we’re seeing recently is that if you kind of open that door and set a path people will follow and that’s something once there’s a critical mass, which doesn’t even have to be that many workers, once you get a critical mass of workers to really start having these conversations in an uncensored way without the absolute fear of retaliation and deactivation the harder it’s going to be for Shipt and Target to contain the bullshit.
TWU: We feel like this is all coalescing, this is great, we got our survey story published independently from y’alls which broke the story about Shipt workers and then the Target warehouse workers up in Jersey just announced they’re going to try to unionize and it’s all blowing up in terms of what’s going on in Target. Target workers are speaking out and taking action and see the need to organize, which is really good and we need more of it and it’s the only way things are going to change. The US has unionization rates in the single digits where it’s like 95% of workers are not organized, not in a union and are at the total mercy of these corporations. That’s probably one of the biggest issues of the mainstream unions, they haven’t put enough effort in trying to organize the unorganized, and have very rigid, fixed ideas how to run organizing campaigns that don’t work in today’s economy and they don’t know how to adapt as well as the capitalists have.
Shipt Drivers: One benefit of not having traditional employment protection or structure is we’re not bound by those rules either. Even though we don’t have proper recourse we’re also not subject to a lot of the same rules around labor organizing like being in a formal union. So like secondary boycotts for example with traditional unions have been illegal for a long time, not for us. Part of what we need to do is figure out ways to utilize those loopholes where we aren’t subject to traditional employment rules and use that against corporations in the fullest capacity to make their gig economy model unsustainable.
TWU: it’s like our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength because we don’t have the protections of formal unions, but at the same time we don’t have to operate by those rules like you’re saying. For us Target workers for instance we don’t have first amendment rights on the job, we don’t have freedom of speech when we work in the private sector. We are basically working for little sovereign kingdoms where US amendments don’t apply. It’s only our labor rights which give us the ability to speak and even then it’s very restricted under the Trump-appointed NLRB, they’ve really narrowed down what qualifies as concerted activity, whereas Shipt can’t censor Shipt workers since you do have first amendment rights. We can’t just go to work and say “I hate Donald Trump”, they can fire you right there for that if they wanted to. Even with that there’s just so much unfamiliarity, and lack of education about labor rights and that’s probably the biggest hindrance for why there hasn’t been more active labor organizing among workers especially in the South where we’re in right to work states and so many people think that means you have no labor rights, but it’s not true! So we have to debunk that idea, that’s one of the big initiatives for us is education and trying to build a base level of knowledge about what our labor rights are and hopefully Target workers hear what y’all are going through and realize “oh my God we have all these protections and rights that people have fought to get we should just exercise them and not be as afraid because we actually have some recourse here that Shipt workers don’t”
Shipt Drivers: There are important points of solidarity, important ways to build solidarity between Shipt workers and Target workers. If we could combine the power of our forces it will be really great!
TWU: We need the “one big Target union”, we want to build connections with the factory workers in China who produce all the stuff we sell at our stores, we need to be building those connections with workers from point A in the factories to point Z where it ends with Shipt workers.