According to a report published earlier today by Vice's Motherboard, Instacart workers are planning a nationwide strike next Monday, March 30th. Instacart's shoppers, who handle the "front-line" work of actually buying the goods you order, are requesting additional benefits from the company, including access to hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and soap; an expansion of paid sick leave to cover those with pre-existing conditions warned not to work; and an extra $5 per order as hazard pay.
For the unfamiliar, Instacart is a grocery delivery service, staffed by shoppers who work as independent contractors, sort of like Uber drivers. They're not really employees of the company in the traditional W-2 sense, and some see the widespread use of contractors for these new services in the current, so-called "gig" economy as unsustainable. Instacart's shoppers currently have up to two weeks of paid sick leave, but only if they test positive for COVID-19.
The news of the strike comes during a time of growth for the company, with CEO Apoorva Mehta saying, "the last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart's history," after promising to hire 300,000 new workers.
With many of us now stuck at home due to the ongoing pandemic, we've turned en masse to services like Instacart to provide access to basic goods, like groceries, in the meantime. Given the essential nature of that service, strike organizers like Vanessa Bain believe the company can do more to help front-line workers, telling 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."
Although Instacart shoppers claim that the company calls them heroes as it works its way to record business (and, presumably, record profits as a result of the global pandemic), at least some of them believe it can do more to ensure their safety.
Whether the company's gig workers succeed or not, you might want to reconsider placing an order through Instacart early next week — you might not get it. We've got a list of alternatives for you to consider, if it's urgent.
Instacart reached out to us with the following statement after publication:
“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.”
The company also directed us to an announcement it made today, in which the company offered to extend the period shoppers can take their two weeks of COVID-19 test-positive sick leave out through May 8th — though it still isn't expanding it to cover more circumstances, as requested by strike organizers. A bonus system is also being introduced, though the company defends that "shopper earnings have been increasing considerably" recently.
In short, the company doesn't appear willing to meet strike organizer's demands.