Update: This story has been updated to include a comment from Instacart.
Instacart shoppers are planning a nationwide mass revolt over the grocery delivery app's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, workers say they will refuse to accept orders until Instacart provides hazard pay of an additional $5 an order, free safety gear (hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and soap) to workers, and expands its paid sick leave to include workers with pre-existing conditions who have been advised by their doctors not to work at this time. Workers say the strike will last until Instacart agrees to these terms.
The March 30 walkout will build on a wave of wildcat strikes sweeping across the country. In recent days, Amazon warehouse workers in Queens, New York, sanitation workers in Pittsburgh, and poultry plant workers at Perdue Farms in Georgia have all walked off the job, demanding greater protections from coronavirus, and leading to calls for a “general strike,” or mass strike action across the country. Meanwhile, the upcoming Instacart strike will mark the first time gig workers in the United States—who face the double bind of working on the front lines of virus and lacking basic labor protections like healthcare and paid sick days—have walked off the job in response to coronavirus.
“The health and safety of our entire community — shoppers, customers, and employees — is our first priority," a spokesperson for Instacart told Motherboard. "Our goal is to offer a safe and flexible earnings opportunity to shoppers, while also proactively taking the appropriate precautionary measures to operate safely. 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.”
In a blog post Friday morning, Instacart announced several “new features and offerings” to address Covid-19, which address none of the gig workers’ demands.
“While Instacart’s corporate employees are working from home, Instacart’s [gig workers] are working on the frontlines in the capacity of first responders,” Vanessa Bain, a lead organizer of the upcoming Instacart walkout, and an Instacart gig worker in Menlo Park, California, told Motherboard. “Instacart’s corporate employees are provided with health insurance, life insurance, and paid time off and [are] also eligible for sick pay and paid family leave. By contrast its [gig workers], who are putting their lives on the line to maintain daily operations are afforded none of these protections. Without [us], Instacart will grind to a halt. We deserve and demand better.”
To date, Instacart—like its Silicon Valley peers at Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and DoorDash—has offered up to two weeks of paid sick leave to gig workers only if they test positive for Covid-19, at a time when tests are in short supply. That offer only lasts until April 8, before the worst of the pandemic is set to hit. For many gig workers who live paycheck to paycheck this means there’s no other option but to work while sick.
And for others with increased risk for contracting the virus, it means going without pay.
“This job lifted me out of poverty and I was able to help my daughter with tuition for college and pay my mortgage, but I just discovered I have a problem with my heart, and stopped working during this pandemic because I decided it’s not worth me ending up in an ICU,” an Instacart gig worker in Chicago with congestive heart failure who wished to remain anonymous because she feared retaliation told Motherboard. She is currently living off her savings and hopes to make it through several months without income from Instacart.
“Now they’re calling us household heroes and Instacart is fully operational across North America but they’re saying we need to test positive for covid-19 to get two weeks salary,” she continued. “It’s a hollow process. It’s all optics. They’re putting our lives at risk.”
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Last week, Instacart announced that it will hire an additional 300,000 gig workers in the next three months—more than doubling its current workforce—as demand for home delivered groceries increases with customers looking to reduce trips to the grocery store. Prior to the current hiring spree, Instacart workers have repeatedly expressed that they’ve seen their income decline as the company has flooded markets with new workers who add competition among workers for lucrative orders. Instacart plans to hire 54,000 new shoppers in California, and 27,000 in New York.
"The last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart's history and our teams are working around the clock to reliably and safely serve all members of our community," said Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta in a statement about the hirings.
“Instacart has been busy crafting a rather heroic public image as the saviors of families sheltered-in-place, and as the economic saviors of laid off workers—announcing Monday its plan to hire 300,000 new workers,” Bain, the Instacart organizer, said. “In truth, Instacart is providing no protection to its existing [gig workers], and profiting significantly off of this pandemic.”
Instacart did not immediately respond to request for comment.