More than two months have passed since states across the country went on lockdown and nearly 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, yet many Instacart workers still have not received the safety kits (face mask, thermometer, and hand sanitizer) that the grocery delivery app promised them on April 2.
Motherboard received messages from 13 Instacart workers around the country in recent days who say they placed orders for Instacart’s safety and health kits when they were first available in April and are still waiting to receive them. On social media, countless Instacart workers have echoed these experiences. In numerous instances, Instacart has sent out notifications that health and safety kits have shipped, but weeks later, workers have received nothing in the mail.
“I placed an order when it was first available in April, it said it shipped, but nothing ever came,” Cathy Wooden, an Instacart worker in Athens, Ohio, told Motherboard. “They let me order again in May and I still haven’t received anything.”
“We’re singularly focused on the health and safety of our shopper community," a spokesperson for Instacart told Motherboard. "Our teams have proactively secured personal protective equipment for the Instacart shopper community including health and safety kits with face masks and hand sanitizer. We have supplied kits to hundreds of thousands of shoppers to date and are continuing to ensure this important community is supported with the equipment and resources they need."
Days after a several thousand worker strike in late March, when workers demanded that Instacart begin providing disinfectant, Instacart announced that it would begin offering health and safety kits to its workers. But workers struggled to place orders on Instacart’s online store (carrotswag.com) because kits were “out of stock” or only available for “pre-order” for several weeks. By April 18, workers still hadn’t received their kits, according to a report in Wired.
More than a month later, some workers have received two kits, while countless others have received nothing. On April 23, Instacart claimed that it is sending out tens of thousands of shipments a day, but it could be that the shipments are only reaching certain parts of the country.
And even so, at this rate, it could take months for its 750,000 workers to receive the safety kits. In other words, the worst of the pandemic could pass without many frontline workers receiving basic protective equipment.
“There are some people receiving their second kits while others still haven’t received their kit,” Brittany Barnes, an Instacart worker in western Tennessee, told Motherboard. “I speak to the veteran Instacart shoppers in my town and none of us have received kits. Instacart just made these offerings to us for the publicity to make themselves look good.”
When Instacart first announced the safety kits, Barnes said she had to check online constantly to check whether the kits were stock. After finally being able to place an order in mid-April, Barnes received a notification from Instacart on April 29 that her safety kit had shipped, but a USPS tracking number indicates that the shipment never left the ground.
To make matters worse, those who have received safety kits say they fall short of what is needed. Face masks are made of a flimsy translucent t-shirt material, although the CDC recommendations that cloth face masks include several layers of fabric. The sanitizer bottles are only six ounces each. And some workers opened their packages to discover hand sanitizer had exploded all over the mask. In late April, Instacart removed thermometers from the safety kit offerings.
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Many workers have resolved to buying their own supplies out-of-pocket, despite earnings continuing to sink as Instacart has nearly quadrupled its workforce during the pandemic.
“I’ve had to buy masks. Most of us have. I don’t know anyone here in Hawaii who has received a safety kit,” Arlene Tetu, an Instacart shopper in Honolulu, told Motherboard. “I never got my first order, although it says it was delivered. Another order says it shipped on May 14 and I still haven’t received that. I don’t think any of us are holding out hope.”