Striking Instacart worker says training, protective measures are needed amid pandemic: 'It’s not worth being on a ventilator'

Reporting by Stacy Jackman and Nurys Castillo

As Americans are leaning more and more on grocery delivery services during the coronavirus outbreak, some workers who are actually doing the shopping say their health is being put at risk by the companies they work for — and they’re walking off the job to get the help they need.

Workers at Whole Foods, Amazon and Instacart are among those who have staged protests and strikes due to what they say are unsafe workplace conditions.

Yahoo Lifestyle spoke with Ashley Johnson, an Instacart shopper from Washington who said she’s stopped working for the company because she feels the conditions are unsafe.

“The big thing is we feel like as a whole, Instacart shoppers can’t protect themselves and their customers,” she explains.

Johnson says she has worked for Instacart for about a year and a half, and that the company hasn’t stepped up to provide shoppers with personal protective equipment, or PPE as it’s known, or by sanitizing supplies during the crisis, which, she says, is a danger to workers and to customers.

“A lot of these shoppers don’t even have hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. They certainly don’t have any other forms of PPE, they haven’t had any training and most of them don’t even have a food handlers permit. They also don’t understand that the shopper is in a crowded store with a couple hundred people and then touching the food and then bringing it to you,” she says.

CNBC is now reporting that Instacart announced they will provide safety kits that include a face mask, thermometer and hand sanitizer.

Johnson is a member of the Gig Workers Collective, which describes itself as an organization dedicated to “the fight for fair pay and better treatment for all gig economy workers, from Instacart Shoppers to Lyft Drivers.”

The Gig Workers Collective responded to Instacart’s announcement with a post on Medium, writing in part:

Even if Instacart manages to get its act together in regards to this promise of PPE, their response is still not enough to properly care for workers. In other industries, some workers who do have proper PPE are still contracting COVID-19 or spreading it despite their best efforts. Some Instacart Shoppers, even under the best of conditions and with PPE, will still contract COVID-19. There is still no meaningful progress in protections for the Shoppers who will fall ill. We are still without any sort of hazard pay, without accessible sick leave, without quarantine pay for those with a doctor’s note, and the in-app default tip amount is still not 10%.

Johnson revealed that she makes between an average of $7 and $22 per order, but that she and others on strike believe they should receive a raise during the outbreak.

“The other part of that is we are asking for a hazard pay,” says Johnson. “Where we used to be able to make a certain amount of money — we could do two jobs an hour or two jobs in two hours or whatever — jobs now take 30 percent more time.”

Yahoo Lifestyle reached out to an Instacart representative for comment and was told in part:

The health and safety of our entire community — shoppers, customers, and employees — is our first priority. Our goal is to offer a safe and flexible earnings opportunity to shoppers, while also proactively taking the appropriate precautionary measures to operate safely. We’re focused on serving as an essential service for millions of families, while providing immediate earnings opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people across North America.

Politicians such as Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have tweeted their support of the striking workers.

But Johnson says the support the workers need most is from the company, and the measures haven’t been enough to convince her to continue her work.

“We’re told ‘don’t go to the grocery store’ but Instacart shoppers are in the grocery store all day and then bringing that risk home to their family as well,” she says.

“For a majority of us we’re saying ‘if you don’t feel safe to work, don’t work. Don’t go back until you feel 100 percent safe. Until you can do your job as you need to do, it’s not worth being on a ventilator for $7.”

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