A group representing Instacart Workers nationwide made four demands; none of which were fully met.

By Mike Pomranz
March 30, 2020
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When it comes to fighting for workers' rights, it helps to have leverage—but in the era of the gig economy, finding leverage can be difficult. However, workers for the online grocery shopping company Instacart have been industry leaders—teaming up to threaten boycotts and even voting to unionize in one region, according to Vice. Now, at a time when the COVID-19 outbreak has pushed the number of grocery delivery to extremes, Instacart workers are hoping to use this increased leverage to provide better conditions for these independent contractors who are keeping many Americans fed during the coronavirus crisis.

On Friday, the activist group Gig Workers Collective posted to Medium announcing a planned nationwide strike for today, Monday, March 30. “Instacart has turned this pandemic into a PR campaign, portraying itself the hero of families that are sheltered-in-place, isolated, or quarantined,” the statement began. “Instacart has still not provided essential protections to Shoppers on the front lines that could prevent them from becoming carriers, falling ill themselves, or worse. Instacart’s promise to pay Shoppers up to 14 days of pay if diagnosed or placed in mandatory quarantine not only falls short, but isn’t even being honored. Instacart knows it’s virtually impossible to meet their qualifications and is ignoring Shoppers’ pleas for more substantial and preventative help. Additionally, as per their release, this policy is set to expire April 8th—likely before any Shopper will even qualify for this payment.”

The group has boiled its requests down to four demands: Additional safety precautions (such as sanitizers and soaps) at no cost to workers, an extra $5 per order in hazard pay alongside increasing the default tip suggestion to at least 10 percent, an extension and expansion of pay for workers with a valid risk or required self-quarantine, and extending the qualifying period beyond April 8.

On Sunday, Instacart also took to Medium, posting its plan on “Furthering Our Commitment to the Shopper Community.” However, the company fell short of the Collective demands, directly addressing only two changes: additional access to hand sanitizer and changing the default tip amount to whatever the customer had used for their previous shop (along with removing the “none” option).

Cyrus McCrimmon / Contributor/Getty Images

Not long after, the Collective posted its Medium response, calling these minimal changes a “sick joke” (pun surely intended). The group's rebuke pointed out that “whatever a customer had previously tipped is ridiculous, because most previous customers would have tipped a different (lesser) amount back when things were more normal.” It also questioned why “hazard pay went completely unaddressed.” Additionally, the group wondered, “We had been asking for hand sanitizer for many, many weeks. But apparently the company is capable of sourcing some with 2 days of work? Where was this before?”

For its part, Instacart told me that the hazard pay question was already addressed, just not using that term. On Friday, the company had announced “additional bonus” payments, “for in-store shoppers, shift leads, and site managers working during this busy time.” They continued, “Bonuses will be determined based on the number of hours worked from March 15 through April 15 and will range from $25 to $200, to further support this community during this time.” (These numbers would certainly seem to fall short of a $5 per order demand.)

Additionally, the company stated via email, “The health and safety of our entire community—shoppers, customers, and employees—is our first priority. Our goal is to offer a safe and flexible earnings opportunity to shoppers, while also proactively taking the appropriate precautionary measures to operate safely. We want to underscore that 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. We’ve made a number of significant enhancements to our products and offerings over the last few weeks that demonstrate Instacart’s unwavering commitment to prioritizing the health and safety of the entire Instacart community. And, we will continue to make additional updates over the coming days, weeks and months.”

As of this writing, it seems the strike is still be on.