Instacart, the grocery delivery company, is planning to fire over 1,800 workers in March as an attempt to cut labor costs, including employees who unionized.
The 1,877 people are among the few Instacart workers legally classified as employees rather than contractors. They are paid hourly and are eligible for benefits and work within a single store picking up and packing orders that others proceed to deliver. Among them are Instacart’s only unionized employees: 10 shoppers in a Mariano’s supermarket in Skokie, Illinois, and 366 in-store shoppers at Kroger stores nationwide.
Instacart has two shopper workforces: in-store shoppers, who are part-time employees of Instacart and work inside a particular store to shop for items ordered by customers, or full-service shoppers, who Instacart treats as contract workers. Instacart counts roughly 500,000 of these workers. Unlike the contract workers who largely receive no benefits and protections, in-store shoppers are paid an hourly wage, and are eligible for benefits such as unemployment, social security and Medicare, and more recently sick pay.
The vote to unionize made by workers in Instacart was a landmark victory for gig workers and was the first time employees of tech companies that rely predominantly on contract labor have unionized in order to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Employees were in the process of negotiating their first contract, including fighting for health insurance and vacation time, when news of the layoffs hit.
“These layoffs are totally discouraging for any gig workers who are trying to do something to make these jobs better,” one unionized worker said.
The news could have a detrimental effect on other organizing efforts by Instacart employees across the country. The company leadership has already shown its hostility toward organizers, running a union-busting campaign that included bringing in managers to the grocery store in Skokie to convince workers to vote against the union.