Instacart recently released an announcement about company structural changes, which is often a diplomatic phrasing used for worker terminations. In the Medium post, also reported by Motherboard, Instacart confirmed that it was firing thousands of workers. This includes all 10 unionized workers operating from Skokie, Illinois. This group of employees was the first to vote and form the company's only union in the middle of a pandemic, a detail that remains curiously absent from Instacart's report.
Is this legal? — The National Labor Relations Board is clear about how it is fully within an employee's right to discuss, join, or help with union organizing. So, as a worker, you have the right to negotiate union goals and even wear insignia that indicates support for a union. Outright termination of employment over unionizing is prohibited in the United States.
So how did Instacart, Apoorva Mehta's gig worker enterprise, manage to do this? The company is technically conducting this otherwise insensitive business of sacking workers during a devastating pandemic by burying the decision inside a series of layoffs. By firing a segment of some 2,000 of its 10,000 grocery workers, Instacart can essentially justify this decision by terming it a painful but necessary pivot to a new business strategy and not face legal repercussions for slicing unionized workers out.
What Instacart says — Instacart knows it will receive criticism and even attempts to pacify incoming disapproval. "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," the company wrote. "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."
At one point, Instacart refers to unspecified "separation packages" for sacked workers but as Motherboard reports, based on the United Food and Commercial Workers' findings, Instacart is said to be offering severance as little as $250 per person.
The development is distressing but not at all shocking when you consider Instacart's COVID-19 record. In March, Instacart workers demanded better pay and safety protocol for deliverers hauling groceries from stores to residences multiple times a day. In April, as a result of poor protections for workers, customers were able to lure Instacart shoppers with large tips and then rescind the offer upon getting the order. With this latest report, it's obvious that the neglect toward the average Instacart shopper is not a glitch but part and parcel of the company's business paradigm.