Instacart Workers Go On Strike For Better Protections Amid Coronavirus

Amazon and Whole Foods workers are also striking this week for COVID-19-related reasons, demanding hazard pay, expanded paid sick leave and more.

Grocery shoppers and drivers working for Instacart went on strike nationwide on Monday to demand better protections — including hazard pay and expanded paid sick leave — from the grocery delivery company, as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

Thousands of Instacart grocery shoppers stopped responding to requests for deliveries starting at 8 a.m. local time, insisting they will not go back to work until the company provides them with protective equipment such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, hazard pay of $5 per order, and expanded paid sick leave to cover those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus so they can afford to stay home.

“They send their CEO in San Francisco home, but they’re doing nothing for the backbone of their company. Without shoppers, they’re nothing,” said Sarah Polito, a 28-year-old part-time shopper for Instacart and strike organizer in Newark, New York. She is one of more than 200,000 “full-service” shoppers who are not employees of Instacart, but contractors with limited benefits.

In response to workers’ demands and their threat to strike, the company announced that a third party would manufacture and distribute hand sanitizer to shoppers. It did not address workers’ requests for hazard pay.

The company’s coronavirus-related paid sick leave of 14 days only applies to workers who have been infected with the virus or have been ordered to quarantine — providing nothing to workers who are immunocompromised or have respiratory conditions or other health issues that make COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, particularly dangerous for them.

“They should not be risking themselves to make ends meet,” Polito said of more vulnerable workers. “Instacart has the money and the means to do this.”

Asked for comment on its not providing expanded paid leave, an Instacart spokesperson pointed HuffPost back to its 14-day leave policy for those with a “confirmed diagnosis” or “mandatory quarantine order.”

Demand for online shopping and grocery delivery has increased dramatically in recent weeks, as federal and local governments across the country have ordered millions of Americans to stay home to protect themselves and help stem the spread of the virus.

Workers in grocery and other delivery services nationwide are left on the front lines to service Americans during the outbreak since the businesses they work for are deemed “essential” and remain open, but the nature of their jobs means they’re unable to work from home.

Instacart workers on strike are not alone. Amazon workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, also walked out on the job Monday, demanding that the mammoth company do more to keep them safe, including deep cleaning their facility after a worker there was diagnosed with COVID-19. And workers at Whole Foods, owned by Amazon, are also planning a nationwide “sick out” on Tuesday to demand more hazard pay and expanded sick leave.

So far, the United States has the highest number of confirmed cases of any nation worldwide, with more than 155,000 reported cases as of midday Monday and more than 2,400 people dead.

“They send their CEO in San Francisco home, but they’re doing nothing for the backbone of their company. Without shoppers, they’re nothing.”

- Sarah Polito, part-time shopper for Instacart and strike organizer

As demand for its grocery deliveries have shot up, Instacart announced last week that it would be hiring 300,000 additional “full-service” (or contractor) shoppers across the U.S. and Canada over the next three months. While strike organizers don’t know how many out of the company’s more than 200,000 shoppers were striking Monday, more than 10,000 shoppers are part of a Facebook group dedicated to the national boycott alone, Polito said.

Instacart’s president said in a statement Sunday — as workers prepared to strike — that the company will “continue to operate with a sense of urgency on creative solutions to help ensure Instacart shoppers have access to health and safety supplies as quickly as possible.”

The company told HuffPost that it expected its hand sanitizer spray to be available for free to shoppers later today through a dedicated website, with shoppers received the sanitizer ”as early as next week.”

Instacart strike organizers with the group Gig Workers Collective called the company’s response a “sick joke,” and Polito added that it was “definitely not enough.”

Workers have been asking for sanitizer for weeks, Polito said, and only now since the threat of a strike has the company responded saying they’re procuring it. Meanwhile, they still don’t have answers on hazard pay or additional paid leave. They will continue to strike “until our demands are met,” she said.

“We will not back down,” Polito said. “It’s the bare minimum. The least Instacart could do for shoppers is to give them protections.”

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