Instacart is hiring another 250,000 grocery shoppers

It promises it’s doing more to protect workers.

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WASHINGTON,DC-APR6: Matt Gillette, a 36 year-old Instacart shopper, checks his order at a Harris Teeter in Washington, DC, April 6, 2020. For the past two years he's been part of the gig economy, driving for Lyft, doing handiwork on TaskRabbit. The work was so unstable he's been on the verge of homelessness, crashing with some friends and asking others to take in his beloved dog, a lab mix named Nitro.

For years there has been talk of a divided America, of an economy that's highly beneficial to some and detrimental to others. The wrath of a highly contagious, sometimes lethal virus has shown us where, precisely, it stands: at the front door. On one side are people who have the luxury of staying safely at home, working -- or not -- and ordering whatever they want to be delivered. On the other side are those doing the delivering. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post via Getty Images

Despite worker protests and claims that COVID-19 safety gear isn’t available yet, Instacart is still seeing a surge in customer demand. With order volume up 500 percent year-over-year and the average customer basket size increasing by 35 percent, Instacart announced today that it’s hiring another 250,000 shoppers -- that’s in addition to the 300,000 shoppers the company has hired since last month.

In a press release, Instacart says it’s committed to getting back to one-hour and same-day service levels. It will hire the next batch of shoppers to serve six regions: California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington DC and Toronto.

Instacart promises it’s doing more to support its workforce. To log into the app, workers will have to take a daily wellness check. If they confirm symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough or difficulty breathing, they’ll be logged off for the day and told to contact their physician. Independent contractors (known as “full-service” shoppers) and part-time employees (in-store shoppers, shift leads and site managers) who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or forced to quarantine will still receive up to 14 days of financial assistance.

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Chances are these measures won’t appease workers who went on strike a few weeks ago. Instacart tried to avoid the demonstration by making a few concessions, but shoppers said those didn’t go far enough. They pointed out that there’s still no sick pay for workers who stay home due to health conditions that put them at a high risk and that the company failed to address demands for hazard pay.

Shoppers also criticized Instacart for not providing hand sanitizer fast enough. Just a few days ago, many shoppers said they still hadn’t received the promised safety gear.

In its announcement today, Instacart promised in-store shoppers, shift leads and site managers will continue to receive bonuses ranging from $25 to $200 -- but that appears to leave out full-service shoppers. Instacart is also making it possible to request “health and safety” kits with masks and hand sanitizer from the Instacart Shopper app.

Instacart will continue offering a contactless delivery option. The company has also expanded its Costco pharmacy deliveries nationwide. It’s working on a “first available shopper” option to expedite deliveries, and it now lets customers order up to two weeks ahead, instead of one.

Of course, Instacart isn’t alone in its struggle to provide worker protections and meet a growing demand for grocery delivery. Nearly all online grocery delivery services are facing unprecedented stress and having their vulnerabilities exposed.

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