Instacart workers seek strike as jobs get busier, riskier

Possible strike highlights impact of outbreak on grocery delivery business

Wegmans

NEW YORK (AP) — A possible strike by Instacart workers highlights the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the grocery delivery business, where workers are worried about their safety as they try to meet a surge in demand for online groceries.

A group called the Gig Workers Collective is calling for a nationwide walk-out Monday. They’ve been asking Instacart to provide workers with hazard pay and protective gear, among other demands. Instacart said Sunday it would soon provide workers with a new hand sanitizer upon request and outlined changes to its tip system. The group said the measures were too little too late.

In Western New York, both Tops and Wegmans use Instacart for home delivery services.

While some workers say they intend to join the strike for at least a day — or have stopped filling orders already for fear of getting the virus — other, newer workers are content to have a paying job at a time of mass layoffs in other industries.

The San Francisco-based delivery app is trying to hire 300,000 more workers — more than doubling its workforce —to fulfill orders it says have surged by 150% year-over year in the past weeks. The company said 50,000 new shoppers joined its platform in just the past week. Some customers are waiting days to receive orders.

Instacart currently has a workforce of more than 200,000 contracted workers who make multiple trips a day to various grocery stores to fulfill and deliver orders that customers make through the app. It also directly employs about 20,000 part-time workers who are assigned to a single store, collecting groceries that are subsequently delivered to clients by a contracted Instacart worker.

Chloe Grozdina, a part-time Instacart in-store shopper assigned to a Mariano’s grocery store in the Chicago area, says workers are seeing “a lot of apocalypse orders” from customers hunkered down in their homes. Panic shopping has cleared out the shelves, meaning she often has to replace a customer’s orders with a lesser item or notify them that it’s not available.

Grozdina, who makes $13 an hour and doesn’t get tips, said the crowds of fellow Instacart shoppers have made it tough to keep a safe distance while racing to fulfill orders. Grozdina said she wears a mask to work that she bought herself and immediately showers when she gets home.

Among their demands, the strike organizers want hazard pay of $5 an order and supplies of hand sanitizer, wipes and cleaning supplies free of charge. On Sunday, the company said it had contracted with a third-party manufacturer to make a hand sanitizer spray that workers can request at no cost via a website starting Monday, with shipments starting in a few days.

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