Instacart Workers Demand Disaster Relief

image via the Guardian

At the onset of the pandemic, Instacart Shoppers took on a new role as first responders. Providing an essential service to families sheltered in place, Shoppers found the scope of their work shifted significantly away from providing a luxury service to customers to keeping entire communities safe. Anyone who could afford to began ordering groceries online, essentially contracting their risks onto Shoppers, all while Instacart has failed to provide Shoppers with PPE, hazard pay, or meaningful sick pay. To add insult to injury, Instacart has misclassified Shoppers as independent contractors rendering them ineligible for minimum wage, overtime, or access to unemployment benefits, paid family leave, and workers’ compensation, to name a few.

While all of these issues are still absolutely relevant, some Shoppers are facing increasing risks in the form of climate change induced natural disasters. In California, hundreds of fires have destroyed nearly a million and a half acres and have forced over 100,000 people to evacuate their homes amid a pandemic. This has been a nightmare for everyone that has been impacted, but gig workers face unique challenges and have far fewer protections than properly classified workers.

Brian Band is an Instacart Shopper based in Boulder Creek, a small town in Santa Cruz County. Brian has been working full-time for Instacart for over 5 years, as his sole source of income. He was recently ordered to evacuate his home, and fled to his parent’s home in Monterey which is over 70 miles away from his endangered home. On Friday, August 21st, Instacart suspended operations for a least a week in Santa Cruz as a result of the wildfires. If properly classified as an employee, Brian would be eligible for disaster pay from his employer, Instacart, and potentially eligible for continued disaster related benefits from the state. Instead, Brian is forced to make the 110 mile trek each way between Monterey and Redwood City to continue to fulfill Instacart orders.

Brian says he’s making less than half of what he was making prior to being displaced, and conveyed he really needs to continue to make his customary income to make ends meet. Commuting over 220 miles to work each day has certainly cut into his bottom line. He expressed frustration with Instacart’s lack of support for displaced workers and contrasted it with his wife’s experience working for Whole Foods, “My wife works for Whole Foods and they put her in motion with an online portal that will pay basically any expense.”

Unfortunately, Brian’s story is hardly unique. Thousands of gig workers in California alone have been displaced, or seen the demand for their services dwindle in the face of natural disasters. Instacart can unilaterally shut down operations without paying its impacted workforce a dime, leaving displaced workers to fend for themselves. It is shameful that a company that became profitable for the first time during the pandemic off of the backs of its workers, has abandoned those very same workers during their time of need.

From wildfires blazing out of control in California, to the life threatening hurricanes expected in Texas and Louisiana, one things for sure, gig workers will simultaneously be a lifeline to their communities and will also disproportionately suffer during these disasters.

Gig Workers Collective demands that Instacart immediately enact the following policies:

  1. Instacart will shut down operations in any market in which a state of emergency has been declared, and/or evacuations have been ordered.
  2. Instacart will provide disaster pay at a daily rate that is equal to the rate of daily pay (including tips) averaged over the previous 30 days, for each day operations are shut down.

Our customers have demonstrated how much they value and rely upon the service we provide, and countless times have recognized the risks we take for them. We call upon Instacart to do the same.