Weeks after announcing that it would provide necessary personal protective equipment to its workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, Instacart has evidently failed to effectively get these vital resources into the hands of its hundreds of thousands of shoppers even as they continue risking their health to perform their jobs.
According to a report from Wired, a company website where workers are supposed to claim their PPE kits—which come with a face mask, hand sanitizer, and a reusable forehead thermometer—is frequently sold out, and the company may be limiting the number of shoppers who can claim them at once. While the kits were available Monday when Gizmodo checked the site, more than a dozen workers told Wired that either the kits they’d ordered hadn’t come or they weren’t able to access them at all because they were completely sold out.
A spokesperson for Instacart said the company began shipping “tens of thousands” of the kits last week, nearly two weeks after the company announced it would begin providing shoppers—Instacart workers who shop for and deliver grocery orders—the so-called “health and safety kits.” But according to Wired, the company said it limited the number of kits that could be ordered each day to mere thousands, after which point the kits are listed as “out of stock” on the website.
This means workers must continue returning to the site and hope that the kits are stocked if they ever want to get one. According to Wired, the company said it’s doing this as a means of curbing duplicate orders and in order to verify that those placing the orders are actual Instacart shoppers. But the site lacks a waitlisting feature for notifying shoppers when the kits are restocked, which could alleviate stress for those workers hoping to receive the crucial PPE.
An Instacart spokesperson declined a request for comment specifically about the inventory caps and the lack of a waitlisting system. According to that spokesperson, when the kits are sold out, shoppers are merely told to check back the next day. The company is restocking thousands of kits per day.
“Our teams have proactively secured personal protective equipment for the Instacart shopper community including health and safety kits of face masks and thermometers, as well as worked with a third-party to manufacture hand sanitizer,” the spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement by email. “We began shipping these items over the last two weeks and are moving quickly to get them in the hands of Instacart shoppers.”
Last month, Instacart shoppers went on strike over the company’s response to the covid-19 crisis. Among their list of demands, workers asked that Instacart provide additional hazard pay of $5 per order, defaulting in-app order tip to at least 10 percent, expanding its paid leave program to those with preexisting conditions, and providing free PPE. Instacart’s announcement about the health and safety kits came just days after the strike.
A spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo that Instacart’s shopper community has ballooned to more than 350,000 in the last several weeks. If just thousands of kit orders can be placed each day—whether by design or due to inventory—then tens if not hundreds of thousands of Instacart shoppers are still working without basic protective equipment unless they’re able to secure it themselves.
The Instacart spokesperson said the company is “singularly focused on the health and safety of our shopper community.” But that so many workers are performing their jobs without essential, company-supplied personal protective equipment at the height of a deadly pandemic seems to indicate otherwise.
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