Mar 30, 2020 - Economy

Instacart workers set to strike during heart of coronavirus crisis

An illustration of insta cart crossed out on a sign.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Some Instacart workers plan to go on strike today, arguing that the grocery delivery unicorn's recent increases in pay and safety equipment are insufficient.

Why it matters: Instacart has become a lifeline for many Americans either unable or unwilling to leave their homes, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

What's happening: It's unclear how many drivers plan to strike today, as the organizer intentionally doesn't keep lists (because contractors don't have legal protections from "employer" retaliation) and past gig economy strikes have been more successful on noise than numbers.

  • The strike also comes at a time when Instacart's workforce is surging — to meet increased orders, including efforts to provide softer landings to recently furloughed or laid-off employees from industries like travel and hospitality (expect some company-specific announcements on that soon).
  • It's also worth noting that the two sides seem to negotiate via blog posts, rather than directly, which has led to some miscommunication.

Strike organizers last week asked for three things:

  1. Free safety products (e.g., hand sanitizer and wipes) for all workers.
  2. Hazard pay of $5 per order plus defaulting the tip amount to 10%.
  3. Expanding sick pay to those with pre-existing conditions that could put them at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, and to extend the deadline for benefits beyond April 8.

Instacart has since announced that it has:

  1. Signed a deal with a third-party manufacturer in Louisiana to produce and distribute its own hand sanitizer to workers in the field. It already had created sanitizer stations inside of stores and arranged for workers to enter and exit via back or side entrances.
  2. Established bonus payments based on the number of hours worked between March 15 and April 15.
  3. Extended for another month its 14 days of sick pay for all workers either diagnosed with COVID-19 or directed by a doctor or health official to stay home (i.e., someone showing symptoms). The guarantee now runs through May 8.

Between the lines: Both sides sincerely believe they are doing the right thing in the midst of a quickly evolving natural disaster.

  • The organizers want workers to be safe, and they're also using the crisis to boost wages after years of having little to no leverage.
  • Instacart was early to implement sick pay for those with the virus, was early with contactless drop-off, and is trying to move new logistical mountains daily (everything from revised traffic patterns to new CDC safety guidelines to onboarding record numbers of new shoppers and customers).

The bottom line: Instacart has suddenly become America’s most vital gig economy company, after years of sitting in the shadows of fellow gig economy "unicorns" like Uber and DoorDash. And with greater profile comes greater pressure.

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