Instacart workers strike 2020: What you need to know

Instacart has over 200,000 shoppers on its platform and serves 5,500 cities in the U.S. and Canada.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Michelle Gant

Thousands of shoppers for Instacart, a tech company that offers same-day grocery delivery through its app, are planning to strike Monday. The workers are claiming that the company has refused to provide them with adequate protection amid the current coronavirus health crisis and are seeking better pay.

Gig Workers Collective, an organization that represents the interests of gig economy workers at companies like Instacart, Uber and Lyft, organized the strike following complaints that Instacart has ignored shoppers' (the name Instacart gives workers who pick up groceries for customers) pleas to enact proper safety precautions to keep them safe during the pandemic.

“Instacart has refused to act proactively in the interests of its Shoppers, customers, and public health, so we are forced to take matters into our own hands,” Gig Workers Collective wrote in a statement posted Friday.

“We will not continue to work under these conditions. We will not risk our safety, our health, or our lives for a company that fails to adequately protect us, fails to adequately pay us, and fails to provide us with accessible benefits should we become sick,” the statement continued.

Shoppers who strike say they will not return to work until their demands, which include access to hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes or sprays and soap provided at no cost; hazard pay of an extra $5 per order and a default tip amount of 10%; an extension and expansion of pay for workers impacted by COVID-19, and an extension of the deadline to qualify for these benefits, which is currently April 8, are met.

“With Instacart neglecting the basic wellbeing of its 150,000+ drivers, we believe there is no choice but to not only walk off, but to raise awareness to the company’s practices. They are putting us directly in harm’s way while profiting greatly,” the statement said.

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Vanessa Bain, one of the main organizers behind Gig Workers Collective, told TODAY that the group planned the last-minute walkout only a week ago due to the “urgency of the situation escalating so severely.”

Instacart currently has over 200,000 shoppers on its platform and serves 5,500 cities in the U.S. and Canada, though it’s unclear exactly how many people plan to participate in the strike.

On March 9, Instacart implemented new guidelines and policies to help support the health and safety of the Instacart shopper community. These included a new sick pay policy available to all part-time Instacart employees which can be used during work absences due to illness or injury; 14 days of pay for any employee diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in mandatory isolation or quarantine as directed by a local, state, or public health authority, and a “Leave at my Door Delivery” option.

On Friday, Instacart added additional benefits for shoppers, including a bonus ranging from $25-$200 for employees based on hours worked from March 15 to April 15, and the ability to earn additional financial incentives based on customer demand.

“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,” an Instacart spokesperson told TODAY in an email.

On Sunday, ahead of the anticipated strike, the company announced two new measures it would be enacting to help protect workers and customers, including working with a third-party manufacturer to develop its own hand sanitizer, which will be available to shoppers for free via a website only they can access.

Instacart also rolled out a new tipping feature: All existing customers' completed orders will now default to their last tip amount, instead of the previous 5% default setting. Instacart is also removing the “none” option in the customer tip settings, so if someone wants to tip $0, they will have to manually type in that amount. Additionally, if a customer lowers the tip on an order below 5%, the default will reset back to 5% for the customer's next order.

In a Medium post published Sunday, Gig Workers Collective responded to the changes.

"Aside from simply not being enough, this is insulting for a number of reasons," the group wrote. They also said "it's abhorrent" that it took this long for the company to make hand sanitizer available to workers.

As for the tipping changes, Gig Workers Collective called the update something that "will, in all likelihood, provide no meaningful benefit to shoppers." The group noted that the request for hazard pay has not been addressed at all.

The company, which saw sales jump 107% from a year ago between March 10 and March 16, according to CNBC, recently announced plans to add 300,000 full-service shoppers to meet rising customer demand over the coming months.

“As more people look for immediate, flexible earnings opportunities during this time, we hope that Instacart can be an additional source of income for those looking to earn while also delivering for the communities in which they live,” the company said in a statement. Since late February, the company said that 97% of all orders included a tip and that, on average, shoppers received a 30% increase in earnings from customer tips.

Bain said the announcement that Instacart would be hiring so many additional employees was the final straw.

“The issue isn’t the lack of shopper labor; it’s that shoppers aren’t protected and empowered to work,” she said, noting that she believes Instacart is taking advantage of people who are vulnerable right now and desperate to make money, regardless of the potential risks.

Despite Instacart's public announcements, Bain told TODAY the company has made no attempts to reach out to the organization directly, nor has it responded to their requests to speak with them.

“Our goal is to ensure that shoppers, our communities, customers, and public health is prioritized over profit, and if Instacart is unwilling to provide these proactively, then we are unwilling to provide our labor until they do," she said.

This isn’t the first time a dispute between Instacart and its shoppers has led to a walkout. In November, hundreds of workers went on strike when the company changed the default tip amount in its app from 10% to 5%.

“On November 3 through 5, we Instacart Shoppers held our largest walk-off yet," Gig Workers Collective wrote in a statement. "We had a fair and, by all accounts, common-sense demand — that Instacart return the default tip amount to the prior 10%. Instacart historically has refused to speak directly to us, so our only way to be heard was through collective action."