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Instacart Workers Plan Nationwide Strike to Demand COVID-19 Protections [Updated]

Gig workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic want hazard pay, safety gear, and extended sick pay

Instacart app on a phone.
Workers for grocery delivery app Instacart plan to walk off the job on March 30.
Photo: Tada Images/Shutterstock

Instacart gig workers are planning a nationwide strike starting on Monday, March 30 over the grocery delivery service’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, citing the company’s failure to implement “proper safety precautions” as requested by workers.

Instead, Instacart shoppers and the Gig Workers Collective write in a Medium post published today, Instacart “has turned this pandemic into a PR campaign, portraying itself the hero of families that are sheltered-in-place, isolated, or quarantined.”

The shoppers allege that the delivery app’s promise to provide 14 days of pay to “any part-time employee or full-service shopper who is diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in mandatory isolation or quarantine, as directed by a local, state, or public health authority” rings hollow, as it has been “virtually impossible” to meet the qualifications while the U.S. has struggled with testing shortages. (An Instacart spokesperson told Eater that the company does not require a positive COVID-19 diagnosis for a shopper to qualify for the extended pay policy, emphasizing that the other possible condition of the policy is being placed under “mandatory isolation or quarantine, as directed by a local, state, or public health authority.”) The workers’ statement also notes that Instacart’s extended pay policy had been set to expire April 8, before the period that experts predict could be the peak of COVID-19 across the country.

The workers write that the March 30 walkout will continue until Instacat agrees to provide the following: safety gear including hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and soap; hazard pay of an extra $5 per order, plus a default of 10 percent tip in the app; an expansion of the extended pay policy that would cover anyone who has a preexisting condition who has been advised by a doctor to self-quarantine; and an extension of the benefits window beyond April 8.

Instacart, in a statement provided to Eater, said:

“The health and safety of our entire community — shoppers, customers, and employees — is our 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. 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 published on March 27, the grocery delivery service highlights updates to its health and safety measures for shoppers, including extending the sick pay policy through May 8, and offering bonuses for in-store shoppers. None of the listed updates directly address the specific demands that Instacart workers put forth in their walkout statement.

“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 walkout, told Motherboard, which first reported news of the strike. Instacart’s corporate employees enjoy benefits like health insurance, paid time off, and sick pay, while the gig workers whose labor is the basis of the service get none of these, Bain said. “Without [us], Instacart will grind to a halt. We deserve and demand better.”

On March 29, Instacart announced plans to manufacture and ship its own hand sanitizer to the app’s shoppers, in light of hand sanitizer shortages across the country. The company also rolled out a new feature that allows customers to set their own default tip setting based on their previous order’s tip — for instance, if a user tipped 15 percent on the last order, their next order would automatically default to a 15 percent tip — instead of having the tip default to the customary 5 percent.

In response, Instacart shoppers and the Gig Workers Collective maintained that the strike, scheduled to start today, is still on. Calling the app’s response a “sick joke” and “insulting,” the workers wrote that the new customer tip default setting would likely “provide no meaningful benefit to shoppers” and pointed out that hazard pay, one of their primary demands, went unaddressed.

On April 2, Instacart announced that it would be distributing free health and safety kits — which include a face mask, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer — to “full-service” shoppers (those who shop for groceries and deliver them to a customer). The company also unveiled a new site designed to serve as a resource center for workers to keep up to date with the app’s response to the pandemic.

In response, Instacart shoppers and the Gig Workers Collective called the new kits “a step in the right direction, but still a far cry from adequate,” noting that the company still had not addressed hazard pay, an in-app default tip amount of 10 percent, or an expansion of paid sick leave for workers with preexisting conditions and a doctor’s note to self-quarantine.

Update: April 2, 2020, 5:27 p.m.: This post has been updated to include the latest actions from Instacart and its workers.