“Many of us are much more fearful for our lives than any retaliation this strike may bring,” according to a statement from Gig Workers Collective, the newly formed non-profit leading the Instacart strike effort. “Standing up for ourselves is always a gamble… but we’re not scared.”
In a statement to CNN Business about the strike, Instacart said, “we’ve seen absolutely no impact to Instacart’s operations. Today, we saw 40% more shoppers on the platform compared to the same day and time last week.”
The company said it has had 250,000 new people sign up to work as independent contractors in the past week and 50,000 of them have already started doing so. “We respect the rights of shoppers to provide us feedback and voice their concerns,” the company said.
Instacart told CNN Business it is working to scale up its customer service team to meet the increased demand. It has also made some recent updates to preempt some common worker concerns, such as temporarily removing customer ratings so workers aren’t penalized when high-demand items aren’t found in stores.
Both Amazon and Instacart have announced policies offering some form of sick pay for those who fall ill with coronavirus or are placed into quarantine. For Instacart workers, it’s unclear just how helpful that has been. According to Gig Workers Collective, a “big push for the timing of this strike was seeing our fellow shoppers being denied the ‘sick pay’ offered by Instacart.”
When asked about this, Instacart reiterated its policy on the matter and said it communicates with workers who have submitted documentation that doesn’t meet its criteria in order to help them understand what is needed to qualify for the pay.
“Workers across the service industry are suffering. And yet they are indispensable during this critical time,” said Veena Dubal, a labor law expert and associate professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. “The fact that these strikes are happening simultaneously shows that if the companies don’t meet their demands, workers have the power to shut down the supply chains.”
Dubal added: “Consumers, too, are realizing how their well-being is intertwined with the well-being of people who do these jobs.”
According to Amazon worker Christian Smalls, a process assistant at the Staten Island facility who led Monday’s organizing effort, “the plan is to cease all operations until the building is closed and sanitized.”
“We’re asking the building to be closed and sanitized, and for us to be paid [during that process],” said Smalls.
About 50 people walked out of the building in protest, according to New York Communities for Change, which was present at the action and streamed it live on Facebook. An Amazon spokesperson said just 15 people participated.
“The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable.”
Hours before the walkout, some employees at the facility received a text message notifying them that another worker, last in the facility on March 24, tested positive for coronavirus, one worker told CNN Business. “We understand that you may be nervous about coming in to work,” the message read. “We have taken a number of measures to keep us safe, such as an increase in social distancing requirements to six feet, staggered shifts, extended breaks, and even more frequent cleanings.” Amazon confirmed the text is authentic.
Still, some workers are on the fence about joining the strikes. Despite wanting to push for change, some can’t afford to not work and feel conflicted about about its potential impact on regular households.
“People need to get their groceries and I don’t want to hinder that, it isn’t their fault,” a worker for Instacart in Florida, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, told CNN Business. “I delivered [Saturday] to a man whose wife has an autoimmune disorder and [needs] groceries delivered.”
Editor’s note — This story has been updated to reflect the source of the estimate of 50 people protesting at Amazon’s Staten Island facility and Amazon’s response to that estimate.