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Instacart Employees Plan Strike on Working Conditions During Pandemic

An estimated 15,000 shoppers nationwide threatened to refuse orders if the company does not meet strike organizers' demands

NBC Universal, Inc.

Thousands of employees for grocery delivery service Instacart planned to strike Monday, arguing that they deserve extra pay and personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves during the coronavirus pandemic.

The workers, who have been earning praise from customers on social media, say that friction has been building between the delivery shoppers and the San Francisco-based company for years. But strike organizers say that the sudden demand for these gig workers because of stay-at-home orders has raised new concerns for employees' safety.

Workers at Whole Food stores around the country say they have fears of coming down with COVID-19, so they’re planning a sick out Tuesday to draw attention to some demands. Ian Cull reports.

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Instacart workers pushing for the strike say braving long lines at supermarkets during a global pandemic has changed the game for many who are often part-time employees.

“We’re risking not only our lives, we’re risking the lives of our customers, we’re risking the lives of the general public and our communities, because we’re not adequately protected,” said Vanessa Bain, a strike organizer.

Specifically, employees are calling on Instacart to provide its workers with personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and hand sanitizers, $5 per order for hazard pay, and they’re asking the company to change its current default tip from 5% to 10%.

An estimated 15,000 shoppers nationwide were expected to refuse orders if the company did not meet their demand.

A representative from the company posted a statement online that read in part, “the health and safety of our entire community – shoppers, customers and employees – is our highest priority.”

A statement provided to NBC Bay Area on Monday said the company plans to distribute new health and safety supplies to its "shoppers" as part of an ongoing commitment to safely serve all members of the Instacart community.

The company said it will boost bonuses for some of its shoppers and extend sick or quarantine pay by 30 days.

But Instacart workers say the company’s efforts are not nearly enough.

Across the Bay Area people are lining up outside supermarkets because of new social distancing guidelines and restrictions on the number of customers in stores.

The choice to avoid those lines by ordering online instead may soon not be available.

Instacart has been planning to hire thousands of new shoppers across the country because of coronavirus demands. It’s not yet clear how the strike will affect those plans.

Instacart late Monday said the threatened strike has not dented its business, which it claims is busier than ever.

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