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The power of collective action
On-demand gig workers have been deemed “essential,” but have not received equipment or protections to ensure their health and safety.
Over the past several weeks, as shelter in place orders and other COVID-19-related safety restrictions have cropped up around the country (and the world), people have become increasingly dependent on grocery delivery.
While these services help to safeguard the safety of consumers, they can put delivery workers at risk. On Monday, March 30th, some Instacart and Amazon workers walked out of warehouses, stopped taking deliveries, and asked shoppers to halt orders in solidarity with their movement.
Organizers launched this collective action because on-demand service workers at firms like Instacart and Amazon have been deemed “essential,” but they have not received the proper equipment or policy protections to ensure their health and safety. Gig workers cannot follow the guidelines issued by the CDC because they are forced to work in crowded warehouses, grocery stores, and make trips throughout their cities to deliver items to customers. This means that they are at a higher risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to their coworkers and customers.
The federal government has taken some action to protect businesses and families, but their $2T dollar relief bill has no protections like mandated hazard pay, paid time off (PTO), or personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements for the gig and low-wage workers that are providing essential services.
Given that the 47% of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover a $400 expense, the PTO that will keep cashflow steady if they get sick or the PPE that will allow them to stay healthy and keep working is often the difference between bankruptcy and survival for workers and their families.
Amazon’s mistreatment of workers has been an ongoing issue and it appears their bad behavior has remained unchanged despite the fact that worker safety is more crucial than ever. Amazon employees have reported feeling unsafe and that they are being lied to about the number of COVID-19 cases in their assigned warehouses. In contrast to employee reports, Amazon's SVP of Global Corporate Affairs, Jay Carney, claims that the firm has “instituted extraordinary measures” to ensure that employees could continue working safely during this crisis.
Firms are not providing basic PPE, but many customers are also not tipping delivery drivers that have placed themselves in harm’s way to deliver their food. Wage worker mistreatment is not new, but this crisis is highlighting their plight in profound ways.
White-collar workers, like Carney, take CNN interviews from the social-distanced safety of their homes, while blue-collar workers, like Amazon’s Christian Smalls, are reportedly being fired less than a day after protesting for increased protections for warehouse workers. Workers have taken things into their own hands by organizing the aforementioned walkouts, boycotts, and making their voices heard on social media.
Amazon workers have struggled to make headway with managers, but Instacart’s leadership has made some changes. For example, in the last two days, they have begun offering free hand sanitizer in their employee store. That said, this small concession does not meet the demands of organizers.
The Gig Workers Collective, who organized the Instacart strike, have published their demands, which include basic PPE, hazard pay of an extra $5 per order and a default tip amount of 10%, and expanded pay for workers who have pre-existing conditions or are at high risk and unable to work.
All things considered, changes may be coming too little and too late as the Instacart sent an email to shoppers in Massachusetts letting them know that an Instacart deliverer in their area had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
With coronavirus cases growing, the senate on a month-long recess, and companies that are slow to take action, there are more questions than answers for gig-workers. What we know for sure is that gig-workers are essential. They provide crucial services for immunocompromised and at-risk individuals that cannot leave their homes for groceries and they deserve protection.
If you find yourself able to cease use of services whose workers are currently striking, then consider not crossing these picket lines. If you do utilize these services, consider leaving a generous tip for workers as a thank you for their labor.
This story is developing.
To stay up to date with the gig-worker movement keep an eye out for these voices:
The Gig Workers Collective, the official voice of the Instacart walkout
Ashley J, gig-economy activist
Christian Smalls, former Amazon employee