The online grocery business is doing well during the coronavirus outbreak. Workers from Amazon and Instacart are asking their companies to do more to keep them safe during the pandemic.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
So many industries are hurting right now – not the online grocery business, though. Companies like Amazon and Instacart are so busy they can’t even meet demand, which is putting a strain on workers. And today some of them are going on strike because they’re worried about their safety. NPR’s tech correspondent Shannon Bond is covering this. And just a note that Amazon is an NPR funder.
OK, Shannon, these workers have safety concerns. What more can you tell us?
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Yeah. Let’s start with the Instacart workers. So Instacart is an app that lets you order delivery groceries from your local market or national chains. And these workers, they’re really at the front lines – right? – and they’re scared. They say they’re not getting supplies to protect themselves. They worry that that’s putting other people in danger. They say they don’t want to be the ones who are bringing this virus into somebody else’s home with a delivery or into their own homes. I spoke with an Instacart shopper in upstate New York named Sarah Polito who’s taking part in the strike.
SARAH POLITO: I shop in – for my grandparents. My, you know, grandmother has lupus and many other chronic illnesses. And that could be pretty bad for her if, you know, I were to bring anything to her.
BOND: Polito says Instacart has sent her messages in the app saying she’s a household hero, but she wants more from them.
POLITO: Actions speak louder than words. You can tell us that we’re these household heroes and that you appreciate us. But you’re not actually – they’re not showing it. They’re not taking these steps to give us the precautions. They’re not giving us hazard pay.
BOND: So Polito and other workers say they’re not going to deliver any Instacart orders until their demands are met.
MARTIN: And what are those demands?
BOND: Well, she mentioned hazard pay. So they’re asking for an extra $5 an hour and a higher default tip setting in the app. They also want protective equipment, like hand sanitizer or disinfectant soap. And they want better access to paid sick leave. Right now Instacart is only making that available if you have a positive coronavirus diagnosis or if you’re put on a mandatory quarantine. They say the workers should get paid, you know, if they produce a doctor’s note saying they have an underlying condition that puts them at increased risk. Instacart did say on Sunday that it would distribute supplies, including hand sanitizer, to more workers. But workers say they need more because they’re taking these big risks when they go to stores to shop and then they deliver those groceries.
MARTIN: Right. So you mentioned Instacart. What about Amazon? I mean, it’s such a behemoth in the industry. What about employees striking there?
BOND: That’s right. So there’s a warehouse on Staten Island. It’s one of the larger urban warehouses in the country. And of course, it serves the important and lucrative New York market. And several employees there have tested positive for the virus. Workers say the warehouse should be closed for at least two weeks to be cleaned, and they want to be paid while that happens. There have been reports of workers testing positive at other Amazon warehouses across the country. Some of those facilities have been closed for cleaning. It’s becoming a big concern.
MARTIN: And they’re demanding some the same things we’re hearing from those Instacart employees?
BOND: They want it to be closed. They want to be paid for the time that it’s closed.
MARTIN: So Shannon, I mean, is this going to be the beginning of a larger movement, do you think? Are you seeing an increase in workers starting to speak up right now?
BOND: Yeah. I think these, you know, lower-wage workers are really in the spotlight right now. Last week, a Walmart worker called out the retailer in an op-ed in The New York Times for putting its workers’ health and safety in jeopardy. And you know, I think what’s happening is so much of the country is under lockdown, people are being told to stay home – these workers need to show up. And they’re meeting these essential needs that are allowing so many of us to stay home so that – try to contain the virus and flatten the curve.
MARTIN: All right. NPR’s Shannon Bond, we appreciate it. Thank you, Shannon.
BOND: Thanks, Rachel.
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