OAK PARK, Ill. (CBS Chicago/CBS News) — Getting groceries during a pandemic has suddenly become a risky business, and now, shoppers who go to the store on behalf of others are planning to walk off their jobs.
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reported Sunday, there are more than 25,000 different grocery stores that InstaCart shoppers use to fill their clients’ wish lists, including Pete’s Fresh Market in Oak Park.
Instacart is a same-day grocery pickup and delivery service.
Its more than 100,000 so-called shoppers take electronic orders from clients and then deliver the bags of groceries to homes businesses and apartments all over America and Canada.
But now that work is suddenly hazardous.
When most of us are ordered to stay at home, people like Ryan Parthemore are taking orders and heading into neighborhood grocery stores.
“I used to have like one or two orders pop up at a time,” he said.
Parthemore is talking about orders for groceries through the online delivery service Instacart. Since the COVID-19 pandemic was announced, he has had maybe 10 orders on his screen at once.
People who normally would go to the stores themselves, now are erring on the side of caution and paying people like Ryan to do what has suddenly become hazardous work.
Has COVID-19 made him consider quitting?
“It definitely made me considered not working for a while,” he said.
But the senior kinesiology student is getting ready to graduate and begin pursuing a doctorate, so he needs the money.
“I’m kind of worried about it,” he said. “But it is the job I picked.”
And so have more than 100,000 other people.
But group of Activists called the Gig Workers Collective say people like Ryan are putting their lives at risk. They say Instacart is an $8 billion company that is sending its so-called shoppers into stores unprotected and for little pay.
That is why they are calling a strike on Monday.
In a letter posted on Medium on Friday, Instacart workers, which the company calls shoppers, and activist organization Gig Workers Collective said that Instacart “has a well established history of exploiting its Shoppers” and that the mistreatment has “stooped to an all-time low.”
“Shoppers have had enough. Instacart has refused to act proactively in the interests of its Shoppers, customers, and public health, so we are forced to take matters into our own hands,” the letter says. “We will not continue to work under these conditions. 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.”
Parthemore doesn’t plan to participate in the strike.
But he thinks pandemic driven demand for Instacart’s service should enable the company to pay more for a job that has suddenly become dangerous.
“I think they may have the money to give a few extra dollars, especially because of how busy it has been,” he said.
And as COVID-19 cases in America Soar past 140,000, Parthemore expects the demand for his services to also rise exponentially.
But despite the risks, the 23-year-old says he’ll continue to stand and deliver.
“I’ve got to make money to keep my source of income going,” he said.
Another Instacart shopper told Puccinelli she would like to go on strike, but right now simply can’t afford it.
In a statement emailed to CBS News, Instacart said their first priority is “the health and safety of our entire community — shoppers, customers, and employees.”
“Our goal is to offer a safe and flexible earnings opportunity to shoppers, while also proactively taking the appropriate precautionary measures to operate safely,” Instacart said. “We want to underscore that we absolutely respect the rights of shoppers to provide us feedback and voice their concerns. It’s a valuable way for us to continuously make improvements to the shopper experience and we’re committed to supporting this important community during this critical time.”
Gig Workers Collective did not respond to CBS News’ request for comment.
On Friday, Instacart announced new measures put in place for shoppers during the coronavirus crisis. Among other things, the company said it will provide up to 14 days of pay for any hourly employee or full-service shopper diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in individual mandatory isolation or quarantine. Shoppers, shift leads and site managers will be eligible for bonus payments and some shoppers will be able to earn “additional boosts on batches during certain times.”
In addition, Instacart introduced new safety measures, including no-contact alcohol deliveries.
The company said they have also been working on providing cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer to shoppers. Instacart said it developed its own hand sanitizer products manufactured from scratch that will be available through a company website in the coming weeks.
The only new measure that meets what workers have demanded, however, is the 14 days of paid sick leave.
Also just on Sunday, the company announced that it is raising its tip level to 15% and supplying shoppers with masks and gloves and hand sanitizer. The company said it is trying to find out how to get the hand sanitizer into the hands of its shoppers.
CBS News’ Li Cohen contributed to this report.