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Gig Workers Take Precautions As Grocery Deliveries Become More Essential And Risky

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Workers for the grocery delivery app Instacart organized a national strike on Monday, March 30, demanding the company do more to help its workers minimize health risks and increase compensation and benefits as they provide an increasingly essential service. With a spike in orders, the app’s independent contractors here in New Mexico are taking additional safety precautions on the job.

Among the demands of the Instacart strike organizers was that the company provide them with safety products like hand sanitizer. “Before I go in, I put hand sanitizer on, I put gloves on, I use disinfectant on the cart,” said Devi Richards, a Santa Fe Instacart shopper who went on strike this week. She says she’s not usually super cautious about germs, but a lot has changed now that she goes in and out of grocery stores during the coronavirus outbreak. “When I’m done with the shop, I peel off the gloves and throw those in the trash. I’m not close to people when I’m shopping. I take my temperature three or four times a day just to make sure.”

In response to the strike, Instacart says it’ll have its own hand sanitizer made and distributed free to shoppers who request it.

Strikers also asked for increased hazard pay, minimum 10% tips, and sick leave for those with pre-existing conditions. 

The company responded by extending a previous offer of two weeks’ sick leave through early May for people quarantined for COVID-19 and adjusting the app to encourage better tipping. 

Grocery delivery is now less of a luxury and more of a necessity for many customers, said Richards, and Instacart workers deserve more support from the company. “They’re making a lot of money on my back,” Richards said. “The workers, the people who are out here buying groceries, delivering them, driving all around town… they are not paying that forward at all to us.”

Richards, who plans to continue providing what she sees as an important service in this moment, says at least customers are tipping more generously since the outbreak began. 

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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