Workers Hit Picket Lines as Pandemic Spreads Across US

(CN) – Workers across America walked off the job Monday demanding better health benefits and worker safety precautions as the simple act of showing up for work has become more dangerous during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Workers for Instacart, a grocery and food delivery service, agreed to strike after a group calling themselves the Gig Workers Collective posted their demands Friday, saying thousands of workers are prepared to not fulfill the company’s orders if their requests are not met.

“Instacart has a well-established history of exploiting its shoppers, one that extends years back before our current crisis,” the collective said in its post. “Now, its mistreatment of shoppers has stooped to an all-time low.”

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

As many as 150,000 across the country participated in Monday’s strike.

“When people work an hourly job, it’s suggested in many ways that you‘re unimportant or expendable — except you aren’t,” U.S. Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted Monday in support of the strikes. “Everyone deserves safe work, paid leave and a living wage.”

The workers accuse Instacart, an app-based grocery-delivery service in the United States and Canada, of profiting enormously off the coronavirus pandemic without providing workers with meaningful pay, health benefits or the equipment necessary to perform their jobs safely.

“We will not risk our safety, our health or our lives for a company that fails to adequately protect us, fails to adequately pay us, and fails to provide us with accessible benefits should we become sick,” the collective said.

The threatened strike comes at a time when Instacart has gone on a hiring spree, promising to add approximately 300,000 new full-time employees in the next month to meet demand as U.S. consumers are increasingly afraid to go to grocery stores or other places where people congregate for fear of infection from the novel coronavirus.

Instacart said orders have surged by about 150% year over year in the last three weeks.

The San Francisco-based company said Sunday it will manufacture its own hand sanitizer and make it available via its website. The company also said it is making it easier for customers to set a default tip for delivery workers in its app.

The collective deemed the company’s concessions insufficient and is demanding an extra $5 per order and a minimum tip of 10% of every order.

In addition to Instacart’s labor woes, close to 100 Amazon workers walked out in protest of the sanitary conditions at one of the e-retail giant’s New York warehouses.

“How many cases we got?” asked one worker as they strikers filed out of the warehouse during the lunch hour.

“Ten,” came the reply, referring to the number of workers at the location who have tested positive for Covid-19.

The workers want the company to conduct more frequent and comprehensive cleanings of the warehouse and give workers paid time off while the work is being completed.

“We are working long, crowded shifts in the epicenter of a global pandemic, and Amazon has failed to provide us with the most basic safeguards to protect us, our families, and the public’s health,” said center worker Rina Cummings in a statement released by Athena, a coalition of union groups.

Threats of strikes have been spreading like the coronavirus has throughout the country as the pandemic picks up in intensity.

Whole Foods workers throughout the country are planning a “sick out” on Tuesday to protest inadequate health protections for workers, according to Whole Worker, a national union that represents the grocery store employees.

The strike is in response to the news that several workers have contracted the disease in New York City, Chicago, Louisiana and California.

“As this situation has progressed, our fundamental needs as workers have become more urgent,” the union said in a petition circulating on Monday. “Covid-19 poses a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and our customers.”

The workers are demanding more cleaning but also better paid leave benefits, including the option to get a full salary if the workers get sick and must self-quarantine for 14 days.

Whole Foods, Instacart and Amazon aren’t alone.

Sanitation workers in Pittsburgh threatened to walk off the job if their demands for more paid leave and health benefits aren’t met.

Workers at a poultry plant in Georgia run by Perdue Farms walked off the job this past Monday, demanding better pay and more protections from the coronavirus.

%d bloggers like this: