Many Americans are suddenly being forced into a Sophie’s Choice: continue to work out and about in public where demand for work is high, or stay home, stay healthy, and stay safe from contracting or spreading the coronavirus. While the internet seems to be convincing many people that the easy choice is to stay home and deal with the boredom and monotony of indoor life, the decision is more complicated for gig workers who rely on in-person business for their income.
Instacart shoppers are no exception. The popular app – which essentially allows customers to send a stranger out to run their grocery errands for them – has seen a sharp increase in demand as Americans across the country are hunkered down at home, committed to self-quarantine to stop the spread.
On March 23, Instacart Founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta announced plans to bring on an additional 300,000 shoppers to meet the increasing customer demand. The announcement included health and safety guidelines for shoppers, a promise of in-store cleaning products and safety supplies to be distributed to shoppers in North America.
But some workers are frustrated that Instacart is not doing enough to protect its current shoppers. When shopper Laura Richey began showing early symptoms of the virus, she immediately sought medical advice and stopped working on the app. Richey told Rolling Stone that despite submitting overwhelming evidence that she was instructed by doctors to get a COVID-19 test and quarantine for at least 14 days, Instacart is not paying up.
Instacart Shoppers and the Gig Workers Collective initiated a strike demanding PPE (personal protective equipment), hazard pay (an extra $5 per order and defaulting the in-app tip amount to 10%), and expansion of pay for workers impacted by COVID-19.
Amazon employees staged a walkout of a Staten Island warehouse after Amazon decided to keep the warehouse open even after one confirmed and multiple suspected cases of COVID-19. Amazon implemented daily temperature checks for employees before they enter the warehouse, staggered shifts, and spaced out break room chairs. The workers who staged the walkout only wanted the warehouse to be closed and sanitized, and to be paid while it happened.
While it may not be a simple decision to weigh the risks of exposure with the risks of closure, gig workers are forced to rely on large corporations to make decisions in the best interests of its workers. The protections these leaders choose to provide will be a testament to corporate priorities and whether we can rely on private sector innovation to save business while saving lives.