Today, delivery workers for the shopping app Instacart are striking for better protections and pay in the wake of the significant surge in demand for their services thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. Here’s what you need to know about the strike and how to support the workers.
What’s going on?
Instacart shoppers (the name the company uses for their delivery workers) are independent contractors, and according to a March 27 statement from the Gig Workers Collective—an activist group organizing the strike—have been requesting that the company provide them with improved pay and protections against the coronavirus for the past several weeks. At this point, their demands have gone largely unmet, but last week, Instacart announced that it was preparing to hire an additional 300,000 shoppers to help meet the unprecedented demand for home grocery delivery service.
The remarkable nature of the coronavirus pandemic means that companies like Instacart that rely on people to deliver their products must rethink their health and safety policies—not only to meet the needs of their employees, but also as a measure to protect public health. Individuals who provide delivery services are frontline workers during this pandemic, making numerous trips between supermarkets or warehouses and private homes, putting themselves at risk of contracting—and transmitting—the virus while the rest of us stay home and stay safe.
Delivery employees for companies like FedEx, UPS and Amazon have also expressed concerns over their working conditions amid the coronavirus outbreak. This has resulted in some policy changes—for example, signatures are no longer required for UPS and FedEx deliveries, allowing both drivers and customers to maintain physical distancing guidelines.
According to Instacart shoppers, the company has not been providing them with supplies like hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes or sprays to protect themselves and customers as well. The Gig Workers Collective notes that Instacart is offering virtually no protection to their shoppers at a time when their services are crucial for the company to operate, either in terms of personal protective equipment or sick pay. In order for Instacart’s current sick pay policy to kick in, the shoppers first must test positive for COVID-19 and be placed in quarantine by a health authority—and both must occur before April 8. Given the shortage of testing kits and overall lack of access, this is essentially an impossible bar to clear; hence, the strike.
Instacart shoppers’ demands
At least some Instacart shoppers have walked off the job today, March 30 (the Gig Workers Collective is not a formalized union with membership rolls, so it is unclear how many shoppers are participating), and remain on strike until the following demands are met:
1. Safety precautions at no cost to workers—PPE (at minimum hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes/sprays and soap).
2. Hazard pay—an extra $5 per order and defaulting the in-app tip amount to at least 10% of the order total.
3. An extension and expansion of pay for workers impacted by COVID-19—anyone who has a doctor’s note for either a preexisting condition that’s a known risk factor or requiring a self-quarantine.
4. The deadline to qualify for these benefits must be extended beyond April 8th.
In a statement to Gizmodo on Friday, March 27, an Instacart spokesperson said that the health and safety of “shoppers, customers and employees” is their “first priority”:
“Our goal is to offer a safe and flexible earnings opportunity to shoppers, while also proactively taking the appropriate precautionary measures to operate safely,” a spokesperson said. “We want to underscore that we absolutely respect the rights of shoppers to provide us feedback and voice their concerns. It’s a valuable way for us to continuously make improvements to the shopper experience and we’re committed to supporting this important community during this critical time.”
Then on Sunday, March 29, Instacart issued a public statement outlining additional protections they will now offer to their independent contractors, including increased access to hand sanitizer, and a new default tip setting and bonus pay for hours worked between March 15 and April 15. The company also announced that the payment protections for workers diagnosed with Covid-19 or ordered to stay home by a doctor have been extended through May 8.
Not surprisingly, the Gig Workers Collective followed up yesterday with another statement calling Instacart’s response a “sick joke,” reiterating their demands and confirming that today’s strike would proceed. And while the Instacart statement also included information on sick pay for part-time workers, based on the response of the Gig Workers Collective, it is unclear at this time how the company is addressing the pay concerns of independent contractors.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Instacart worker Sarah Polito told NPR. “You can tell us that we’re these household heroes and that you appreciate us. But [they’re] not actually… showing it. They’re not taking these steps to give us the precautions. They’re not giving us hazard pay.”
What you can do to help
To start with, don’t cross a picket line. Don’t order a delivery via Instacart today—or until the workers’ demands are met and the strike is over.
You can also contact Instacart and let them know that you stand in support of their independent contractors. If you have time to make a call, their phone number is 1-888-246-7822, but their website currently has a note regarding a high call volume and long wait times. You could also email an Instacart “community support member” at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch through Twitter to express your concerns about the welfare of their shoppers.