Instacart Workers Set to Strike on Monday, Demanding Hazard Pay and Protections

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An Instacart worker scans barcodes showing proof of purchase for a customer while picking up groceries. Instacart shoppers are planning a nationwide strike on Monday, March 30, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

People are scared to go to grocery stores right now and risk exposure to coronavirus, so they’re hiring others to do it for them. It’s been a boon for delivery services like Instacart, which is planning to hire 300,000 more shoppers.

These shoppers will join other front-line pandemic workers — at grocery stores, in delivery trucks and behind pharmacy counters — who are risking exposure to coronavirus in order to make sure essential businesses and services stay up and running.

But because Instacart continues to classify their workers as contractors, they do not have the same kind of protections and benefits as employees. Instacart workers aren’t guaranteed minimum wage, have no paid time off and their employer does not pay into unemployment insurance.

To protest working conditions and a lack of protection on the job, Instacart shoppers are planning to go on strike across the country on Monday.

Vanessa Bain has been an Instacart shopper in the Bay Area for four years. She said work is incredibly stressful right now. The grocery stores are packed. Often the items she’s sent to get aren’t available. And she isn't being provided with hand sanitizers and wipes to protect herself from infection.

“Right now there’s a heightened sense of awareness, thankfully, that our labor is essential,” Bain said, “but it’s still not paying like it’s essential and it’s still not protecting like it’s essential.”

Instacart has made a number of changes as their business has surged. They’ve added bonuses based on the number of hours worked. Workers can also get up to two weeks of sick pay, but only if they contract coronavirus. They posted the steps they have taken in the last few days online.

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Bain said Instacart workers are in the same dangerous, exposed position as grocery store workers, pharmacists and others performing work that has long been labeled and compensated as “low-skilled" jobs. Unlike many of those workers, though, people like her in the gig economy are controversially classified as contractors, which means they have less protections and can’t take steps to collectively advocate for themselves by joining a traditional union.

“We’re misclassified as independent contractors which means we’re not even eligible for minimum wage for example,” Bain says. “Should we become sick we’re not able to draw from the same safety nets that other traditional W-2 workers are able to draw from.”

Bain and other shoppers say they will strike Monday unless they all get hazard pay, per order, and basic protections like hand sanitizer and wipes. An advocacy group for shoppers and other app-based workers called Gig Worker Collective has posted a full list of the Instacart workers’ demands online.

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