Grocery delivery company Instacart says it will provide its full-service shoppers with health and safety kits days after some workers walked out over a lack of protection during the COVID-19 health crisis. The kits, which workers can request through an Instacart website starting next week, will contain a reusable cloth face mask, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer. Face masks will also be provided to in-store shoppers at certain retail locations, according to the company.
Providing protective equipment like face masks has been a key demand of Instacart’s workers, who say it could prevent them from getting sick, or else becoming carriers of the virus. Shoppers previously threatened to walk out over the demands, although Instacart later claimed that it suffered “no impact” as a result of the strike.
The provisions come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to advise all Americans to start wearing face masks in public. It’s a big shift from its previous guidance, which said that only sick people and medical workers should be using them. Now, however, there are concerns that people without symptoms may be carrying the virus, and that asking everyone to wear masks may help prevent infections.
Responding to the latest announcement, Gig Workers Collective called the safety kits a “step in the right direction,” but expressed concerns about how many kits are available, and how long it might take shoppers to receive them. In a blog post, the group noted that when hand sanitizer was offered on Instacart’s internal online store for Shoppers it had “immediately” sold out. Instacart had previously promised to distribute independently-developed hand sanitizer to its workers.
Gig Workers Collective also expressed concerns that Instacart’s measures still don’t go far enough to protect vulnerable workers during the pandemic. In particular, it reiterated its demand for a hazard payment of $5 per order to cover the risks associated with working for the company, and for the default in-app tip amount to be set to at least 10 percent.
It also demanded that workers with preexisting conditions who are more at risk from the virus be provided with sick pay if they have to stay home, and for sick leave to be made more accessible. Previously, Instacart has promised to offer up to 14 days paid sick leave for workers ill or quarantining as a result of COVID-19, but organizers said these measures didn’t go far enough. Concerns were raised that a requirement to test positive for COVID-19 is of limited use when tests are in short supply and wouldn’t help workers without health insurance.
Delivery services like Instacart have seen a huge spike in demand as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, as people obey social distancing guidelines by sheltering at home. CNN reports that Instacart plans to hire an additional 300,000 independent contractors as a result of increased demand.