Shoppers fearful of leaving the house have been turning to San Francisco-based grocery delivery service in droves, overwhelming the company and leading to days-long backlogs for orders. The company has announced that it’s seeking 300,000 more shoppers to deliver those orders, all of whom (like the rest of its front-line workforce) would be independent contractors without legally mandated benefits, an issue troubling to state regulators who say that the company is in violation of employee classification laws. Now that turmoil has extended past California, as the company’s shopping workforce says that it will stop taking orders on Monday, March 30, unless Instacart offers workers hazard pay and paid sick leave.
This isn’t the first time that workers with Instacart have gone on strike: After a November 2019 strike demanding that the company ensure a “default tip” amount, Instacart reduced the shoppers’ bonuses — a timeline that some workers say was a move intended to punish its gig-working staff. But that was then, and this is now: and the sudden increase in demand for delivery drivers might give workers additional leverage.
But that’s not the only reason Instacart shoppers are threatening to strike, Vice reports. Local legislators, like those in San Francisco, say that gig workers who deal with the public “face many uncertainties, including housing and food insecurity, no access to health care, exposure to COVID-19 without safety training, sanitation and protective equipment,” TechCrunch reports. In a media event Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney said, “Many of us are being told to have your food delivered, have your food dropped off...Having workers at these companies is actually becoming essential for us to operate during this time, but at the same time we are not treating these folks fairly…we are putting them in even more marginalized and vulnerable positions economically.”
In a Medium post published Friday, Gig Workers Collective — a non-profit organization focused on “fair pay and better treatment for all gig economy workers,” per its website — says that “Instacart has turned this pandemic into a PR campaign, portraying itself as the hero of families that are sheltered in place, isolated, or quarantined” but that it “has still not provided essential protections to Shoppers on the front lines that could prevent them from becoming carriers, falling ill themselves, or worse.”
That’s why, the post reads, “shoppers will walk off of our jobs,” and will not return unless they receive precautionary items like hand sanitizer and gloves, $5 per order hazard pay and a default tip of 10 percent, and a paid sick leave expansion to cover workers with pre-existing conditions. Workers will not return to Instacart until those demands are met, Gig Workers Collective says.
For its part, Instacart also posted to Medium on Friday, but listed updates and feature changes unrelated to the Gig Workers Collective demands. In a statement to Vice, an Instacart spokesperson said, “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 did not comment on the specifics requested by the soon-to-be-striking shoppers.