How The Pandemic Turned An Introvert Into A Voice For Gig Workers As the pandemic forced society to acknowledge just how essential low-wage gig workers are, Willy Solis, who delivers groceries for the app Shipt, seized the moment to advocate for better conditions.

How The Pandemic Turned An Introvert Into A Voice For Gig Workers

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

In 2020, gig work became essential, from delivering groceries to driving for Uber. But that essential work doesn't come with the security of most other jobs. And the pandemic has only exacerbated that inequality. That prompted one of those workers, Willy Solis, to speak up. Here's what he told NPR's Shannon Bond in April.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WILLY SOLIS: I have never done organizing in my life. I see myself falling into this as a freak accident.

GONYEA: Shannon caught up with him recently to hear how this year has gone.

SHANNON BOND: For Willy Solis, many days start like this, in his driveway in Denton, Texas.

SOLIS: It's around 9:54 in the morning, just came out to my car - going to jump on the Shipt app to see if I can find a couple of orders.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE BEEPING)

BOND: He recorded the sounds of a typical day as a shopper for a Shipt, the delivery service owned by Target. He gathers products on store shelves and drives them to customer's homes. Solis was attracted to gig work by the promise of flexibility and controlling his own time, then Shipt changed the way it calculates pay. That was the last straw for Solis, who had been discussing his frustrations with other Shipt workers, known as shoppers, for months.

SOLIS: In a two-week period, I talked to over 600 shoppers, and, I mean, I was tearing up. And then next thing I know, I'm finding myself talking to national media.

BOND: The pandemic made things even worse. The workers struggled to get protective equipment like masks and gloves. Solis was on his phone morning and night, connecting with workers on Facebook groups and messaging apps. Soon he was in touch with thousands of people. They organized walkouts, refusing to accept orders. A few protested outside Target's headquarters in Minneapolis. No one was more surprised by this newfound activism than Solis himself.

SOLIS: It's taken me to a place where I never thought that I'd be. I'm an introvert - extreme introvert. My natural - or that's - my nature is very, very introvert.

BOND: Organizing is now a huge part of Solis' life. He does it while waiting for orders to show up on the app.

SOLIS: I responded to several people, responded to a couple of tweets, responded to a couple of Facebook messages - you know, just try to make it a productive morning since I'm not seeming to get any orders.

BOND: He even caught COVID, and he still kept going.

SOLIS: I continue to organize from the bed. And I know that that sounds crazy, but that's what I did. And talking to reporters and doing the things that I was doing to try and get our word out while still working on trying to recover from COVID, it wasn't fun.

BOND: His organizing has forced change, getting Shipt to acknowledge some workers were not getting the tips they had earned. And the company then made them whole. But Solis says the work is hard. He waits a long time to get orders since so many people affected by the pandemic have signed up for gig work to make ends meet. And the pay is low.

SOLIS: The reality is that I could go out and find another job and bring myself up into a better financial situation for me personally. However, we need people to be speaking out. And there's so many people that cannot speak out. And they're afraid to speak out. You know, I decided to go ahead and stick it out as long as I possibly can.

BOND: So today, that means taking precautions. Solis doesn't want to relive his battle with COVID or spread it to others.

SOLIS: As soon as I get to my car, I will put some more hand sanitizer on my hands.

BOND: He says he's learned to live with the trade-offs, like only working enough to cover essential bills and a low-key Christmas with his kids because he has a bigger mission.

SOLIS: It's beyond one person and one family. It's like my story is everybody's story. And there's thousands of people that I speak for.

BOND: In 2020, Solis found his voice. Shannon Bond, NPR News.

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