Workers at Instacart, Amazon and others are striking due to unreasonable working conditions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Allyn Haynes
Apr 9, 2020 · 3 min read

By Allyn Haynes

Essential workers across America are posing strikes, walk-outs, protests and organizing sick-outs during the coronavirus pandemic. They are demanding better pay, protective gear and cleaner, safer working conditions..

Despite shelter in place orders given by President Donald Trump and many state governors to stop the spread of the virus, many are exempted from the orders and are still required to work. They are called “essential workers,”providers of vital services.

On March 28, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an “Advisory Memorandum On Identification Of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response,” stating which professions were deemed essential, such as workers working in healthcare, food and agriculture, and ect.

There has been an influx of backlash particularly from grocery store workers, factory workers and workers in the gig economy. Though their professions require them to be essential during the pandemic, the workers are feeling as though their lives are not being treated as such.

Veena Dubal, an associate professor of law at the University of California, said in a Vice article ,”The most effective strikes have been by people who were essential to the flow of goods and bodies. People that are most essential right now and responsible for the transport of goods to individuals who desperately need them are, ultimately, the gig economy workers — the delivery drivers and the shoppers and the people who are producing the food as well.”

Last week, multiple organization’s workers went on strike or staged protests. Of those demonstrations, the ones that most impact day to day operations occurred at Instacart and Amazon.

On March 23, workers at Instacart, a same day grocery delivery and pick up service in the U.S. and Canada, did not show up to work and demanded better pay, access to paid leave and more precautionary measures to fight the spread of COVID-19.

The Gig Workers Collective, the group that organized the strike, said workers will not fulfill their duties until Instacart provides more protective material and hazard pay as stated in a post on March 27. Roughly 200,000 workers participated.

“There is a feeling that grocery workers are important during this crisis and it feels frustrating not to be supported,” said Sarah Brazier, an Instacart employee who spoke to the New York Times.

Amazon is also facing struggles with their workers in multiple areas such as Chicago, New York, and New Jersey.

On March 25, Buzzfeed reported the first coronavirus infection at Amazon in Edison, New Jersey. The infected worker informed the news organization that staff had not informed other workers though other employees also tested positive.

On March 30, dozens of Amazon employees at a Chicago delivery station walked out of their night shift in protest of the company’s refusal to shutdown the facility for proper disinfection after a worker tested positive in COVID-19.

There has also been criticism from public figures such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Sherrod Brown, asking how Amazon CEO Jeff Beozs planned to protect and compensate workers. Amazon Vice President Brian Huseman responded by saying that the company was keeping facilities open, but “tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing policies and processes to ensure that those in our buildings are keeping safe distances” according to BuzzFeed.

Despite the strikes, both companies are still hiring large amounts of workers. Instacart said on March 23 they wanted to hire another 300,000 workers due to a surge in demand and Amazon pledged to hire an additional 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers.

Workers are still applying pressure to companies in order for their demands to be met. More companies that have long profited from low skilled workers, who are now deemed essential, being forced to give in to labor demands.

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