Instacart workers will walk out on Monday for better sick leave and virus protections

March 27, 2020
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Instacart shoppers are organizing a work stoppage Monday because they say the grocery delivery company has not done enough to ensure their safety during the coronavirus outbreak, as first reported by Vice.

The workers say they will refuse to accept new orders through the Instacart app until the company adds a $5-per-order hazard payment, expands its paid sick leave policy, and provides them with protective gear including hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

In an interview with The Verge, lead organizer Vanessa Bain said the group is not only trying to protect existing Instacart shoppers, but new shoppers as well. It’s not the first time workers have staged a walkout, but she says the stakes are much higher now. “The mood is a lot more somber,” says Bain, who has been an Instacart shopper for four years. “Usually it’s high energy and people are really enthusiastic. Right now people are doing this literally to save their lives.”

Instacart announced plans earlier this week to hire an additional 300,000 workers to keep up with exploding demand for grocery delivery. “The last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart’s history,” Instacart founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta said in a statement.

Adding that many new workers is “predatory,” Bain says, with many people suddenly unemployed due to coronavirus shutdowns who are desperate for work, but may not be prepared for the rigors of the job.

“This work requires a high degree of skill,” she says. “People like myself, who are veteran shoppers will tell you the past three weeks have been the most overwhelming, stress-inducing weeks we’ve ever seen. It’s a really hard job right now. It’s unsafe for the existing workforce, but instead of prioritizing health and safety they’re bringing in more people.”

The company announced on March 9th it was giving 14 days of paid leave to any part-time workers or shoppers who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been put into mandatory quarantine. Previously, that leave was only available through April 8th, but the company said in a new blog post today that it would extend the benefit through May 8th.

“The health and safety of our entire community — shoppers, customers, and employees — is our first priority,” an Instacart spokesperson said in an email to The Verge. “Our goal is to offer a safe and flexible earnings opportunity to shoppers, while also proactively taking the appropriate precautionary measures to operate safely.”

In addition to extending the sick leave benefit, Instacart introduced a bonus program, which will be based on hours worked between March 15th and April 15th and range from $25 to $200, and additional promotions for full-service shoppers to earn more based on regional demand. It’s also implementing contactless alcohol delivery and added a “safety incidents” section to its app where shoppers can report problems.

Bain said the sick leave policy requiring a positive coronavirus test was insufficient. Because tests are not widely available and many don’t have health insurance, lots of shoppers will likely continue to work even if they’re symptomatic.

Bain added that she and fellow organizers have been “screaming into the void” about the company’s lack of sick leave or paid time off. They’ve previously held four walkout events to protest the conditions. But she says the idea of working conditions in the gig economy was sort of abstract for a lot of people until the coronavirus made it plain how the lack of protections could affect everyone.

“I think a broader section of society cares about this right now,” she says. “Not only are they thinking ‘is this safe for the worker,’ but now they realize ‘hey that worker is putting their hands on things that are coming into my house.’ They’re much more tuned into it now: If an Instacart shopper goes to work sick, they can get other people sick.”

Bain herself had to stop taking orders for Instacart because she lives with her elderly grandparents and didn’t want to put them at risk. “We’re really in a situation where the people who can least afford it are exposing themselves all day long to grocery stores, some of the most dangerous places to be in the country.”



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