MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Americans are stuck at home, but groceries, household supplies, board games, books - they're all just a click away. Behind those clicks, of course, are people filling orders and delivering groceries, and some of those workers are walking off the job today. Amazon warehouse workers in New York and Instacart grocery delivery workers across the country say they want more protections for their health and safety and higher pay.
NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to tell us more.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hello.
KELLY: So what all are these workers asking for?
SELYUKH: Well, just for context to begin with, I just want to point out that the reason this is happening is because we're in the situation where it - hourly and gig workers find that their low-paid work has become extremely critical. To your point, they pack, shop, deliver - all those things you named - human food, pet food, medicine. And, in fact, the demand is so massive right now that both Amazon and Instacart and others like them are hiring hundreds of thousands of new workers, and that puts a spotlight on their current workers. Companies have started referring to them as heroes. Amazon has bumped their pay by $2 an hour, but the workers say they don't feel their bosses are doing enough to keep them safe.
KELLY: All right. So these are workers from, we said, Amazon and some from Instacart. Start with Amazon. What exactly are their concerns?
SELYUKH: Right. So one warehouse in question is in Staten Island. It's a borough in New York, which is now the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., but it's also a huge market for Amazon. Amazon has acknowledged that at least two workers there have tested positive for the coronavirus. The company says it's consulted with health officials, overall decided to keep the warehouse open after taking what it says are extreme measures for safety and cleanliness. But the workers there want the warehouse closed for a long time for deep cleaning while also getting paid. I spoke with one worker there, Terrell Worm, who says he left the warehouse an hour after he found out about the first case.
TERRELL WORM: I touch over 2,000 different items every day I work there. I have to get products out of the shelf and put them in bins. Like, two-, 3,000 items every day is being touched by one person, and I'm not wearing any protection there. Like, I'm going in there without anything.
SELYUKH: He does confirm that Amazon has, in fact, started checking temperature when workers arrive at the office, and they have been adding sanitizer stations and pushing tables further apart in the cafeteria, doing some measures to help workers.
KELLY: Meanwhile, what are the demands of the workers at Instacart, which is a little bit of a different situation, right?
SELYUKH: Exactly. We're talking about contract workers who get paid to deliver grocery orders through an app. They're not employees. They want more access to protective items like disinfectants. They want higher pay for the risks they're taking, like an extra $5 per order. My colleague Shannon Bond spoke this weekend with one gig delivery worker, April McGhee from California, who says despite a crush of orders, the company itself is not paying more.
APRIL MCGHEE: There is a lot of work, and the pay has not gone up. I open the app sometimes, and I see $10, $10. And they want me to drive literally 15 miles to the opposite side of town. It's a $10 gig for risking my life, and it's insulting.
SELYUKH: Instacart is now saying it will distribute hand sanitizer to more workers, make other changes. But it did not address paid sick leave for its contractors.
KELLY: Stay for a second, Alina, with that issue - paid sick leave - because it sounds like both Amazon and Instacart workers are asking for that. What does that look like? What are the options?
SELYUKH: Indeed, this is the heart, to me, of the frustration faced by low-wage workers across the board. It's Amazon, Instacart, Walmart, McDonald's. Workers have been saying they wish their companies gave them more generous paid sick leave. Since the pandemic, most companies have expanded access. Usually, it's two weeks paid but only if you officially test positive for the coronavirus or if the company confirms you were in contact with someone else who did. So in essence, it all hinges on folks getting tested and diagnosed, which has been difficult for a lot of people.
KELLY: And just briefly, Alina, what about workers who have pre-existing conditions?
SELYUKH: Exactly - or those living with elderly grandparents. There are a lot of concerns for them going into the office and - or into their workplace and hanging out with other folks at a time when the rest of the country is asked to stay away. And, you know, companies are offering unpaid leave. Amazon has extended unpaid leave that's unlimited. But a lot of people say they cannot afford to take even a few days of being unpaid.
KELLY: NPR's Alina Selyukh.
SELYUKH: Thank you.
KELLY: And we should note Amazon is one of NPR's financial sponsors.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.