Mar 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

Instacart workers set to strike during heart of coronavirus crisis

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.

Go deeper

When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance over Memorial Day weekend outlining when Americans can stop self-isolating after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: Nearly all states across the U.S. have relaxed stay-at-home orders to jumpstart economic reopenings, per a New York Times analysis. As more Americans venture outside their homes, they have to decide what precautions they're willing to take, and what they'll do to protect others.

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans Tuesday to make wearing face coverings mandatory statewide for most people over the age of 10 when inside public places. The measure is effective Friday and applies to places like retailers, on public transportation and government buildings.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from the novel coronavirus and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.

Notre Dame president: Science alone "cannot provide the answer" to reopening

The Main Administration Building and Golden Dome on the campus of University of Notre Dame before a football game in 2018. Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins wrote in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday that science alone "cannot provide the answer" regarding the school's decision to bring students back to campus for its fall semester.

The state of play: Jenkins said that the decision also hinged on "moral value," arguing that "the mark of a healthy society is its willingness to bear burdens and take risks for the education and well-being of its young. Also worthy of risk is the research that can enable us to deal with the challenges we do and will face."