Instacart shoppers are growing increasingly frustrated with how the company has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, as essential workers getting groceries to those who stay at home put themselves at greater risk frequenting crowded supermarkets where social distancing remains a challenge.
At a Fairway supermarket in Red Hook, Brooklyn, shoppers working for Instacart say they are still waiting on additional personal protective equipment after the company announced it would be sending "safety kits" to shoppers following a nationwide strike on March 30th. Crowded stores and larger orders have also made the job more difficult, and Instacart shoppers, who start out making the NYC minimum wage of $15/hour, want additional hazard pay.
"They don't care what happens to you as long as you're there making money for them," said Hussain Khalique, a Jamaica, Queens resident who's been a shopper with Instacart for about seven months.
Khalique says he has heard nothing from Instacart about how to sign up for "safety kits" from the company, which would include hand sanitizer, a cloth mask, and a thermometer.
Khalique said he supplied his own gloves and masks to protect himself and family well before the company provided anything. Two boxes of gloves dropped off at the store and a liquid sanitizer was a "slap in our face for all the in-store shoppers," Khalique said. Another in-store shopper at the location, who declined to be named, said few had been using the product because it looked "homemade."
"They really came late with the gloves and we haven't gotten the masks yet," the anonymous Instacart shopper said.
A photograph shows gloves and baby wipes were provided to shoppers at the Fairway supermarket as they were told to "please stay safe and clean" in an internal message shown to Gothamist.
"I have family, and my mom is really scared. She doesn't want the virus. She doesn't want me to be home right now because she's like, 'You always go to work and you could catch it at work because it's a supermarket.' I can't really blame her," Khalique said.
On April 2nd, the company announced Instacart shoppers would get the "safety kits," and in-store shoppers would get masks in the coming weeks.
"Our teams have been working around the clock over the last few weeks to proactively secure personal protective equipment like hand sanitizer and face masks, without taking away valuable resources from healthcare workers given inventory delays and global supply scarcity," Nilam Ganenthrian, the president of Instacart, said in a statement at the time.
An Instacart spokesperson said Wednesday that kits would be shipped as soon as Monday to all shoppers, and the company is working with local teams to distribute other supplies for the in-store shoppers.
But for Instacart shopper Naomi Alexis—a mother of a 7-year-old girl—the risk was too high to continue working. About a week into March, Alexis quit the job, deciding that working minimum wage shopping at crowded supermarkets was not worth the risk.
"In my mind, weighing those things was not difficult at all," Alexis, of South Ozone, Queens, told Gothamist.
Instacart operations at Fairway locations, including the Red Hook location where Alexis and Khalique worked, were expected to end amid the supermarket chain's bankruptcy. Instacart plans to provide separation packages through May 26th, but workers say since operations have continued at the Red Hook location, the number of weeks they're paid out has decreased. Instacart said the severance is not impacted by when the store closes, though shoppers have been told otherwise.
Because Alexis stopped working a few days before the chosen cut-off date for who receives a separation package, an expected $1,400 from the company is no longer being provided, she said.
"Instacart is not helping with anything," Alexis said. "They're not going to pay me the separation package they told me I was going to get."
The company said they could transfer to shop at Wegmans near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where a manger said there is adequate personal protective equipment.
But her daughter is still at home with schools closed.
"At this point, do I want it?" Alexis said. She expects more from the company, valued last year at $8 billion. She doesn't want it to "take a pandemic for them to realize that you perform an essential function in the fabric of the economy."
Khalique added: "If corona didn't happen, then they would have just fired us [at Fairway], but now that they need to make more money, they're just going to keep using us."
On Wednesday, the company announced various new features to address skyrocketing demand, like "leave at my door" delivery and incident reporting, ratings forgiveness, and mobile checkout for shoppers.
"As customer demand has increased by 300% year-over-year, we’ve also grown our shopper community from 200,000 to 350,000 active shoppers to better serve customers while also providing shoppers with immediate, flexible earnings opportunities," the announcement read.
Khalique questions the quality of service customers are getting.
"Since corona happened, all the orders I'm getting are like four to five times the size of a regular order," Khalique added. With long lines, out-of-stock items, and orders with as many as 136 items, he says "it's so much work going through and taking stuff out, and it's like no pay."
Bonuses for shoppers between $25 and $150 are being offered, depending on how many hours shoppers work, according to Instacart. But in-store shoppers like Khalique are looking for additional hazard pay or the option to make tips, which is allotted through the app for those who shop and deliver.
The March 30th strike was a part of brewing frustration from workers across the board, getting food and other critical items to those who stay at home; Amazon, Whole Foods, and Target's delivery app Shipt are among companies whose workers have held strikes.
Already, workers at such companies are getting sick. In Scarsdale, New York, a Trader Joe's employee died after testing positive for COVID-19.
At Amazon's Staten Island facility, an employee was fired hours after a protest against safety concerns, where employees say the number of cases has risen to more than two dozen. The Staten Island workers held another walkout this week. The worker's firing is now being investigated by officials for violating human rights laws.
Though it remains unclear how many Instacart shoppers have quit or gone on strike, Khalique joined the picket line for four days.
"I felt like I did participate in it, but at the end of the day, I still need to make money, so I have to go to work," he said. He plans to keep working and eventually become a full-service shopper to make more money both shopping and delivering. "I get how companies are but that's what frustrates me, that I feel hopeless. There's nothing that we can do that will make them listen to us.”