Instacart has proven to be a boon to shoppers who want to avoid a germy supermarket in the wake of COVID-19. However, its workers may not have as high of an opinion of the company.
According to Motherboard, the company — which has a history of union-busting efforts — announced that they’re firing every employee who voted to unionize the collective of gig workers. Though the announcement most directly affects Chicago-area workers, experts are concerned that this will have an effect on other gig workers throughout the United States.
In a statement, Instacart tried to downplay the union connection, blaming the pandemic and the company’s participating stores’ desire to switch to curbside pickup for the layoffs.
“As a result of some grocers transitioning to a Partner Pick model, we’ll be winding down our in-store operations at select retail locations over the coming months,” they 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. This includes transferring impacted shoppers to other retailer locations where we have Instacart in-store shopper roles open, working closely with our retail partners to hire impacted shoppers for roles they’re looking to fill, and providing shoppers with transition assistance as they explore new work opportunities. We’re also providing all impacted shoppers with separation packages based on their tenure with Instacart.”
However, the “severance” in question is sometimes only as little as $250 and could affect as many as 2,000 workers. This is devastating in a gig economy, and it’s especially devastating in the midst of a pandemic.
What’s more, according to the National Labor Relations Board, it’s actually illegal to fire a worker simply for unionizing. While employers — including Instacart — have the right to limit what’s called “non-work discussions” during work hours (and union organizing is considered “non-work”), employers do not have the right to fire employees for wanting to form a union, petitioning to form a union, or voting to form a union.
If this initial reporting is, indeed, the case with these workers — that they were fired for trying to unionize — Instacart may find itself in serious hot water.