Instacart to Cut All Unionised Workers Amid Widescale Layoffs

Instacart to Cut All Unionised Workers Amid Widescale Layoffs
Clark resident Jen Valencia, centre, shops for a customer as she supplements her income working for Instacart at Acme Market on April 27, 2020 in Clark, New Jersey. (Photo: Michael Loccisano, Getty Images)
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Instacart is reportedly firing nearly 2,000 in-store shoppers, including all of its workers who voted to unionise last February in a historic first for the grocery delivery platform.

As spotted by Motherboard, Instacart buried news of the impending layoffs in a blog post on Tuesday outlining broader changes to how the company does business with grocers. As Instacart has rapidly grown its operations amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, major grocery chains are increasingly shifting to using their own employees, as opposed to Instacart’s in-store shoppers, to fill orders made through Instacart’s online platform. Now Instacart says that, among other changes, it’s scaling up its curbside pickup services to help partnered grocers fill orders in-house, and several are converting to this so-called “Partner Pick” model exclusively.

“As a result of some grocers transitioning to a Partner Pick model, we’ll be winding down our in-store operations at select retailer locations over the coming months,” Instacart said. “We know this is an incredibly challenging time for many as we move through the COVID-19 crisis, and we’re doing everything we can to support in-store shoppers through this transition.”

Last year, a group of Instacart workers at a Mariano’s grocery store in Skokie, Illinois decided to unionise in a 10-to-4 vote, per Motherboard. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, a labour group that represents unionised Instacart workers among others, said Thursday that Instacart had informed the chapter that it was firing roughly 366 Instacart workers at Kroger-owned stores nationwide, including those at the Skokie Mariano’s store.

Instacart is firing roughly 1,800 of its 10,000 in-store shoppers across the U.S. and will offer as little as $US250 ($322) as severance pay, per a letter the UFCW shared from a labour attorney representing Instacart.

The company’s decision to fire its only unionised employees and a slew of frontline workers amid an international pandemic is “simply wrong,” said UFCW president Marc Perrone in a statement.

“As the union for Instacart grocery workers in the Chicago area and grocery workers nationwide, UFCW is calling on Instacart to immediately halt these plans and to put the health of their customers first by protecting the jobs of these brave essential workers at a time when our communities need them most,” he said.

Given that unionised employees are already a rarity in the gig economy, this move is likely to dishearten workers among other big players like DoorDash, Uber, and the like who may have been looking to form their own unions. Instacart’s only unionised in-store shoppers in Skokie were still negotiating their first contract with the company when news of the firings hit.

“These layoffs are totally discouraging for any gig workers who are trying to do something to make these jobs better,” one such worker told Motherboard under the condition of anonymity.

For its part, Instacart claims its employees’ choice to unionise had zero influence on its layoff decisions, per a company spokesperson. That’s hard to believe for obvious reason, especially since the company was reportedly caught running a union-busting campaign shortly before last February’s vote. Several senior Instacart managers distributed anti-union materials to workers listing propaganda about the impacts of joining a union, per Motherboard.

Now, less than a year later, those same employees who failed to heed those threatening memos are out of a job amid a global health crisis. You do the maths.