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'Without Us, Instacart Will Grind to a Halt': Delivery Workers Threaten Strike Over Hazard Pay, Safety Measures Amid Outbreak

"Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart would be nothing without the laborers they treat so poorly—people now deemed 'essential'." 

Instacart employee Monica Ortega checks her cellphone for orders while picking up groceries from a supermarket for delivery on March 19, 2020 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo: Frederic J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images)

Contract workers for Instacart, the Silicon Valley startup that employs 175,000 people to deliver groceries nationwide via its online platform, plan to walk off the job Monday if the company does not immediately provide them with hazard pay and increased safety precautions to protect them from the deadly coronavirus now ravaging the nation.

"Instacart has been busy crafting a rather heroic public image as the saviors of families sheltered-in-place, and as the economic saviors of laid off workers. In truth, Instacart is providing no protection to its existing [gig workers]."
—Vanessa Bain, Instacart delivery worker

As Vice first reported Friday, Instacart's delivery workers are demanding hazard pay of $5 per order, free hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, and paid sick leave for workers with pre-existing medical conditions that would make the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, more dangerous if they contract it.

Considering delivery and grocery workers are just some of the millions of Americans considered "essential" during the public health crisis, "it's especially cruel to withhold these guarantees from the very workers keeping millions of people fed," tweeted Joelle Stangler, a field director for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.

Like millions of sanitation workers, pharmacy and grocery store employees, and healthcare workers across the country, said Instacart worker and strike organizer Vanessa Bain, the company's shoppers "are working on the frontlines in the capacity of first responders"—all while many other Americans are able to work from home.

"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," Bain told Vice. adding that the company's gig workers "are afforded none of these protections."

"We deserve and demand better," Bain added. "Without [us], Instacart will grind to a halt."

Instacart's current sick leave policy for its delivery workers allows them to take two weeks of paid leave only if they test positive for the coronavirus. With tests in short supply and many Americans being told by healthcare providers that they don't qualify for testing, Instacart could be forcing many of its shoppers to work while ill—or at least contagious.

Providing the workers with safety supplies and a fair paid sick leave policy "could actually save lives," tweeted comedian Jon Hendren. 

Others on social media pledged solidarity with Instacart's delivery workers and called on the company to meet the workers' demands for safety measures.

Bain slammed the company for "profiting significantly off of this pandemic" and planning to hire 300,000 new shoppers to keep up with demand and capitalize on the unemployment crisis resulting from the pandemic, while failing to ensure the safety of its current workers.

"Instacart has been busy crafting a rather heroic public image as the saviors of families sheltered-in-place, and as the economic saviors of laid off workers," Bain told Vice. "In truth, Instacart is providing no protection to its existing [gig workers]."

The workers' plan to strike—one which could bring Instacart's business to a halt on Monday, said Medium writer Sarah Emerson, proves that "low-wage workers make the country run."

"Not CEOs in Silicon Valley who style themselves as benevolent dictators," she tweeted. "Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart would be nothing without the laborers they treat so poorly—people now deemed 'essential'." 

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