Workers at Instacart and Amazon struck yesterday and today, critiquing the companies for not prioritizing their safety in response to coronavirus.
Instacart, an app-based delivery service, employs gig workers to go into grocery stores, pick up orders and deliver orders to homes. The company wrote in an official statement, “As the crisis unfolds, our teams are committed to continuing to deliver for all the communities we serve and ensuring our customers and shoppers can safely and reliably use Instacart. We’re proud to be able to serve as an essential service for you and your loved ones during this critical time.” Though Instacart claims its workers are essential, the workers do not believe that the company has done enough to protect their health and safety in this pandemic. They staged a nationwide strike on Monday with demands for the company to provide gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, hazard pay of $5 per order and more paid sick leave.
Currently, Instacart will pay anyone who tests positive for coronavirus or anyone who is placed into mandatory quarantine up to 14 days of pay. It is also offering cash bonuses for workers. March is the busiest month in the company’s history, as it and other delivery services face exponentially increased demand as people choose not to shop in stores themselves. Instacart is looking to hire 300,000 new workers to its platform in response, specifically targeting 10 states where demand is highest, including California and New York.
Amazon warehouse workers, too, struck on Monday in both the United States and Italy for stronger protections.
“Several employees working at the site use face masks for days instead of having new ones each day,” said a union representative. Amazon has said that they are taking extra precautions to respond to coronavirus, including improving social distancing, staggering shift and break times and increasing cleaning of its facilities. Workers and critics have publicly questioned the company’s poor track record on paid sick leave and shortages of protective and cleaning supplies.
One of the organizers of Monday’s Amazon walkout at a warehouse in Staten Island, Christian Smalls, was fired by the company Monday night. Amazon claims Smalls was terminated because he refused to quarantine himself after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), countered Amazon’s claims about the situation: “Workers should be protected when speaking out about safety conditions during this crisis. They are performing a public service. It is unacceptable that Amazon has terminated Chris Smalls for doing that today rather than addressing their serious COVID-19 safety problems.”
Today, employees at Whole Foods, an Amazon subsidiary, are staging a sick-out to demand paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing and hazard pay.
One Whole Foods worker and strike organizer in Chicago said, “a bunch of us have already gotten sick. It’s very plausible that some of us will die for this job.”
Sources: 6 ABC 03/30/20; BBC 03/31/20; CNN 03/30/20; RWDSU 03/31/20; VICE 03/30/20