[Update, March 31: Amazon has fired Chris Smalls, the worker who organized Monday's protest. In a statement to Motherly, an Amazon spokesperson explained "Mr. Smalls is alleging many misleading things in his statements but we believe it's important to note that he is, in fact, on a 14-day self-quarantine requested by Amazon to stay home with full pay. He was placed in paid quarantine out of an abundance of caution because we notified him that he may have had close contact with someone at the building who was diagnosed." The company states that he was fired not for organizing but because he came onsite after being asked to self-isolate, putting his colleagues at risk.]
We're so used to getting things delivered to our doorsteps super quickly, but the coronavirus pandemic has, of course, caused delivery delays across North America and now a looming strike threatens to complicate grocery delivery even further.
On Monday Amazon workers and Instacart shoppers demanded both companies increase protections and pay—or the workers will strike. Spokespeople for Amazon and Instacart both tell Motherly both companies remain operational.
What the workers want:
Instacart's shoppers want the company to provide hand sanitizer and wipes for the gig workers, as well as better compensation for those taking on the risky task of shopping during a pandemic.
Amazon employees want warehouses to be closed for deep cleanings and want access to paid sick leave. Right now they only get paid sick leave if they are placed on a mandatory quarantine by medical providers or have tested positive for COVID-19.
So far, 14 employees at multiple Amazon warehouses have tested positive.
The potential strike comes after several U.S. lawmakers, led by Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Minnesota's Rep. Ilhan Omar, sent a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, urging the company to step up protections for these workers.
"Workers at Amazon warehouses worldwide continue to raise concerns that their employer is not doing enough to protect them from exposure to COVID-19. More than 1,500 of these workers have signed a petition asking Amazon for a more comprehensive response plan, increased protections, hazard pay, and changes to productivity-based performance metrics," the politicians wrote.
They continued: "We ask that you intensify your efforts to protect the health and safety of your warehouse workers. No employee, especially those who work for one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, should be forced to work in unsafe conditions."
As NPR reports, Amazon says it gas "taken extreme measures to keep people safe," and is allowing employees to take unpaid leave if they don't feel safe. It has also raised wages by $2 an hour through the end of April.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, says this is not enough.
"All employers need to prioritize the health and safety of their workforce at this time," he explained, according to ABC7NY. "Unfortunately, Amazon appears to be prioritizing maximizing its enormous profits even over its employees' safety, and that is unacceptable."
In a statement emailed to Motherly, an Amazon spokesperson said, "These accusations are simply unfounded. Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis. Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable. We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day."
Motherly also reached out to Instacart. A spokesperson for the company explained that it remains fully operational across North America and that the company has just announced plans to distribute new health and safety supplies to its shoppers.
"Over the last month, our team has had an unwavering commitment to prioritize the health and safety of the entire Instacart community. We've been evaluating the COVID-19 crisis minute-by-minute to provide real-time support for Instacart shoppers and customers throughout North America. We're in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and other medical experts to ensure our policies, guidelines, and resources are aligned with their recommendations as this situation evolves," Nilam Ganenthiran, President of Instacart said in a news release.
Some of the gig workers shopping for Instacart want more protection.
"They are profiting astronomically off of us literally risking our lives, all while refusing to provide us with effective protection, meaningful pay, and meaningful benefits," Instacart shoppers wrote in an open letter posted to Medium by the Gig Workers Collective.
What the Amazon + Instacart strike means for parents:
Unfortunately, this likely means that getting groceries and baby supplies delivered to our homes during the quarantine is going to become even harder (if that's possible).
Many parents throughout the United States and Canada have reported extreme delays in receiving Amazon orders of things like diapers and baby wipes and Instacart delivery times are booking out weeks in advance.
What you can do:
The labor issues delaying Amazon and Instacart are beyond parents' control, but local stores in your area may be able to help. Some small businesses are offering delivery or drive-up services. If the smaller stores in your area don't have online options try calling ahead to see if they will bring your groceries outside.
The workers plan to walk off the job on Monday, and Instacart already has plans to hire "300,000 full-service shoppers over the next 3 months to meet the growing customer demand for grocery delivery and pickup in North America," according to a news release.
Instacart says these "independent contractors, Instacart shoppers join the platform for different reasons and play many roles outside of being a shopper—they are parents, entrepreneurs, students, and more."
Parents need to get groceries right now, but the parents doing the shopping are also worried.
Motherly will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.