Instacart, Amazon workers strike as labor unrest grows during coronavirus crisis

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Warehouse, delivery and retail gig workers in the United States went on strike on Monday to call attention to safety and wage concerns for people laboring through the coronavirus crisis.

Jordan Flowers holds a sign at Amazon building during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Staten Island borough of New York City, U.S., March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Among those were some of the roughly 200,000 workers at U.S. online grocery delivery company Instacart, according to strike organizer Gig Workers Collective, founded earlier this year by Instacart worker Vanessa Bain.

About a dozen workers at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Staten Island, New York, also walked off the job on Monday following reports of COVID-19 among the facility’s staff.

Workers have also protested in other countries. Dozens of Amazon workers at a facility near Florence, Italy, went on strike on Monday, while last week French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said pressure on Amazon employees to work despite inadequate protections was “unacceptable.”

From delivery drivers to grocery store clerks, shelf stockers and fast-food employees, workers have kept food and essential goods flowing to customers who are staying home to stop the spread of coronavirus.

More than 738,500 people have been infected across the world and about 35,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, on Monday disputed comments from a striking Staten Island employee, who accused the company of mishandling warehouse operations after a confirmed case of coronavirus. The company said it has taken “extreme measures” to clean buildings and obtain safety gear and that “the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.”

San Francisco-based Instacart – which lets customers place online orders from grocers, retailers like Costco Wholesale Corp and CVS Health Corp’s CVS Pharmacy – said in a statement that the strike had “absolutely no impact to Instacart’s operations.”

On Monday, Instacart said it had 40% more shoppers on the platform than on the same day last week and sold more groceries in the last 72 hours than ever before.

“The health and safety of our entire community – shoppers, customers, and employees – is our first priority,” it said in a statement.

It was not clear how many Instacart workers who fulfill and deliver orders to customers were participating in the strike, Bain told Reuters.

Bain has created a Facebook group with 15,000 members. She said hundreds more have reached out to her in light of Monday’s campaign.

In posts on social media, people who said they were Instacart workers demanded hazard pay to account for the dangers of working while most people stay home to comply with state, local and federal government guidance.

They also asked for the company to provide hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and soap to clean their cell phones, cars and shopping carts.

“We don’t have to have 100 percent participation to … force Instacart to maneuver on these issues,” Bain said in a phone interview.

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Instacart said on March 23 that it wanted to hire another 300,000 gig workers because of a surge in demand.

Staff in one supermarket of French retailer Carrefour will receive protective masks after some walked out over health risks, a union said on Monday.

Employees of McDonald’s Corp, as well as people who said they worked at Walmart Inc, supermarket chain Harris Teeter, Waffle House, Family Dollar and Food Lion, boycotted work at North Carolina locations on Friday.

Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Additional reporting by Krystal Hu, Anna Driver and Jeenah Moon in New York, and Jeffrey Dastin in San Francsico; Editing by Dan Grebler and Matthew Lewis

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