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Corona Economics

Instacart workers announce plans for nationwide strike over coronavirus working conditions

Workers demand sick leave, safety gear and more pay.

In the era of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, more people are relying on delivery drivers to snag supplies from the grocery store.

But employees for one of the biggest delivery apps, Instacart, say they aren’t being paid enough for a job that puts them at high risk to contract the new coronavirus.

The workers, known as “shoppers,” plan to hold a nationwide strike on Monday to demand the company provide them with leave time and preventative supplies such as hand sanitizer. The workers are also demanding hazard pay — an extra $5 per delivery.

An editorial authored by the “Gig Workers Collective” outlines the demands.

“For the past several weeks, Instacart Shoppers and Gig Workers Collective have been urging Instacart to take proper safety precautions. We have been ignored,” the piece says. “Instead, Instacart has turned this pandemic into a PR campaign, portraying itself the hero of families that are sheltered-in-place, isolated, or quarantined. Instacart has still not provided essential protections to Shoppers on the front lines that could prevent them from becoming carriers, falling ill themselves, or worse.”

It continues: “Instacart has a well established history of exploiting its Shoppers, one that extends years back before our current crisis. Now, its mistreatment of Shoppers has stooped to an all-time low. They are profiting astronomically off of us literally risking our lives, all while refusing to provide us with effective protection, meaningful pay, and meaningful benefits.”

Instacart users have the option to tip shoppers, though a past controversy saw workers not receive the full tips they earned from customers — Instacart instead used customer tips to offset the base fee the company paid to shoppers, essentially negating tips unless they went above the drop fee it pays out to shoppers.

Instacart has approximately 175,000 shoppers, which are employed as independent contractors. Contractors are generally not afforded benefits such as health insurance or paid leave. Contract workers, also known as gig workers, are generally less expensive for companies to employ and have fewer protections than employees.

The delivery industry has been one of the few to see explosive growth during the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down bars, restaurant dining rooms and many stores in the already struggling retail sector. A possible strike by Instacart workers highlights the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the grocery delivery business, where workers are worried about their safety as they try to meet a surge in demand for online groceries.

The strike comes as the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues growing unabated. As of Sunday evening, there were more than 137,000 cases and 2,414 deaths nationwide.

According to Florida Department of Health data, there were 4,950 confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. Sunday —an increase of nearly 25% over 24 hours. DOH also reports the pandemic has killed 59 Floridians.

While some workers say they intend to join the strike for at least a day — or have stopped filling orders already for fear of getting the virus — other, newer workers are content to have a paying job at a time of mass layoffs in other industries.

The San Francisco-based delivery app is trying to hire 300,000 more workers — more than doubling its workforce —to fulfill orders it says have surged by 150% year-over year in the past weeks. The company said 50,000 new shoppers joined its platform in just the past week. Some customers are waiting days to receive orders.

Instacart currently has a workforce of more than 200,000 contracted workers who make multiple trips a day to various grocery stores to fulfill and deliver orders that customers make through the app. It also directly employs about 20,000 part-time workers who are assigned to a single store, collecting groceries that are subsequently delivered to clients by a contracted Instacart worker.

Among their demands, the strike organizers want hazard pay of $5 an order and supplies of hand sanitizer, wipes and cleaning supplies free of charge. On Sunday, the company said it had contracted with a third-party manufacturer to make a hand sanitizer spray that workers can request at no cost via a website starting Monday, with shipments starting in a few days.

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Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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