Instacart Workers, NY-Based Amazon Warehouse Employees Go On Strike Citing COVID-19 Concerns

  • March 30, 2020 at 2:55 PM EDT
  • By Glenn Taylor
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Workers at Amazon’s Staten Island, N.Y. distribution center and grocery delivery contractors at Instacart are on strike, with both alleging that their respective employers have taken inadequate protection measures against COVID-19.

Nearly 100 workers at the Amazon facility, known as JFK8, planned to participate in the work stoppage, set to take place starting at noon ET on March 30. The employees walked out in the morning and will “cease all operations” until their demands are heard by site leadership, Chris Smalls, a management assistant at JFK8 and a lead organizer of the strike, told CNBC. The concerns rose during the prior week when it was discovered that a warehouse employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

The workers want to pressure Amazon to close the facility for cleaning and offer employees paid time off while it’s shut down. An Amazon spokesperson said the warehouse does not need to be shut down to be clean, noting that the company was following guidelines from health authorities when making decisions and highlighting that Amazon has increased the frequency and intensity of deep cleaning and sanitation at its facilities. Amazon already expanded its sick-leave policy to include part-time warehouse workers as part of its decision to hire 100,000 new fulfillment workers and raise the minimum wage of those employees by $2 through April.

Amazon workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in at least 11 warehouses, forcing a prolonged closure of at least one warehouse in Kentucky.

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Gig Workers Collective, an organization that represents the interests of gig economy workers at companies such as Instacart, Uber and Lyft, organized the strike at Instacart. Shoppers (which is how Instacart designates workers who pick groceries for consumers) had complained that the company has ignored their pleas to enact proper precautions to keep them safe during the pandemic.

Instacart employees who strike say they will not return to work until their demands are met. These 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.

Upon hearing of the strike and the list of demands, Instacart said it would help protect workers and customers by working with a third-party manufacturer to develop its own hand sanitizer, which will be available to shoppers for free via a web site only they can access. The company 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.

However, Gig Workers Collective has not acquiesced to Instacart’s proposal, primarily since the company did not address concerns about added hazard pay or paid sick leave.

“It’s abhorrent that it took this long for them to act, but on the bright side, it shows that a strike will work to change their behavior,” the group wrote in a Medium post yesterday.

Instacart recently announced it would hire 300,000 full-service employees to meet rising customer demand over the coming months. But Vanessa Bain, one of the main organizers behind Gig Workers Collective, told NBC’s TODAY, “The issue isn’t the lack of shopper labor; it’s that shoppers aren’t protected and empowered to work.” Bain believes Instacart is taking advantage of people who are vulnerable right now and desperate to make money, regardless of the potential risks.

This is the second time a dispute between Instacart and its workers has led to a walkout. In November 2019, hundreds of workers went on strike when the company changed the default tip amount in its app from 10% to 5%.

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