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As more people order delivery, workers fear virus exposure

Editor's Note: Amazon disputes the claim that dozens of workers walked out in protest on Monday. According to Amazon, “15 people participated in the demonstration of which only 9 were Amazon associates—the rest were community organizers.” According to protest leaders, “Organizers on the ground counted 62 workers who walked off their jobs.”

More than 250 million Americans in 30 states have been asked or ordered to stay at home. Although some still buy essentials in person at stores, many are ordering online instead. As a result, warehouse and delivery workers and professional shoppers have become central to the current economy -- and a growing number are concerned about the risks they face by doing their jobs. Paul Solman reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than 250 million Americans in 30 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have been asked or ordered now to stay at home.

    While many people still go to stores in person for essentials, many people have relied on deliveries. And those workers have become a crucial part of how the economy is working at the moment.

    But a growing number of those workers are concerned about the risks they may be taking.

    Paul Solman has that story.

  • Man:

    This is a billion-dollar company. You guys need to provide us with masks. You need to provide us with gloves.

  • Paul Solman:

    At Amazon's Staten Island, New York, fulfillment center, dozens of workers walked out today over safety concerns about the spread of coronavirus, demanding the facility be closed for at least two weeks and sanitized.

    They're also asking for workers to be paid during this time, including back pay for those already staying home out of fears for their health.

  • Chris Smalls:

    We don't know who's diagnosed or not. It's too late. It's too late. They can't do nothing to stop it. What they should have did was quarantine the building two weeks ago, and they didn't do it.

  • Paul Solman:

    Meanwhile, a strike was called today at another delivery giant, Instacart, the grocery shopping and delivery service, where orders have surged from customers unwilling or unable to leave their homes.

  • Sandie Nierenberg:

    I had gone to the grocery store after the outbreak started, and it was a madhouse, and it was crowds of people and everybody coughing, and, you know, me probably being a little paranoid.

  • Paul Solman:

    I Skyped with strike organizer Vanessa Bain last night.

  • Vanessa Bain:

    We called for an emergency walk-off of all shoppers to not report to work on Monday, to not accept any orders, not fulfill any orders and not deliver any orders.

    We have a list of demands. And until those demands are met, we feel like we can't shop safely and can't perform our job safely.

  • Paul Solman:

    So what's the danger now?

  • Vanessa Bain:

    Grocery stores are a hotbed for this virus spreading. Our work requires that we are in the grocery store a majority of the day.

    And we're touching common surfaces like grocery carts and PIN pads at the grocery store, you know, which, again, are surfaces that many, many people touch and cannot be properly disinfected in between each use.

  • Paul Solman:

    So what are you asking for?

  • Vanessa Bain:

    Yes. Our demands are that we are provided with protective equipment like hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, things that we can spray our cars down with, things that we can spray our phones down with.

    We're also demanding $5-per-order hazard pay, plus a universal 10 percent tip default, because right now it defaults to 5 percent, which is falling far short of what it should be, especially in a time like this.

  • Paul Solman:

    Are people saying, thank you so much for coming to the house and giving you a $20 or something like that?

  • Vanessa Bain:

    Some customers are very mindful, very appreciative. And some customers are conditioned to tipping the absolute least. And it's certainly not adequate in times like these, because, you know, to shop an order takes substantially longer than it used to.

  • Paul Solman:

    According to an extensive survey last year, says Ms. Bain, Instacart shoppers like her average less than $8 an hour after expenses.

    But income isn't their only concern these days.

  • Vanessa Bain:

    We are asking for — or we're demanding the expansion of their COVID-19 pay replacement policy.

    It requires a positive diagnosis of coronavirus, which, you know, if you can access a doctor, you can't access a test. And if you can access a test, your results aren't in for, you know, anywhere between four to 11 days. And in the meantime, shoppers have no access to income if they're not working.

  • Paul Solman:

    Moreover, professional shopping has become much more difficult.

  • Vanessa Bain:

    If a customer wants, let's say, green beans and there's no green beans that are available that are fresh, I can't replace with cans. I can't replace with frozen. It's just the stock is depleted.

    So a lot of — a lot of what's been happening has been stressful. And because our tips are contingent upon the receipt total, the less of the order that we can — the less we can fulfill the order, the less our tip is as well, even though the amount of work we're doing actually increases.

  • Paul Solman:

    Last night, Instacart responded, saying it is having hand sanitizer manufactured, which will ship next week, and that it will allow customers to set their own higher default tip rates.

    But Vanessa Bain's group calls that response simply not enough, in that it clearly doesn't address their paid sick leave or hazard pay demands.

    I had one last question.

    Put yourself in the position of the CEO of Instacart for a moment, if you would. I mean, what would you do differently?

  • Vanessa Bain:

    If I were the CEO of Instacart, I would be very concerned with my company's reputation right now. We're touching everything that enters a customer's home.

    In order for, you know, a customer to get milk or eggs or, or cereal, our hands are going on that packaging. And so, if we're not — if we're not healthy and if we're not able to take proper safety precautions, then our customers' risk are sky-high, right?

    Because we're in the grocery stores all day long.

  • Paul Solman:

    This is Paul Solman reporting from my house outside Boston.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Paul.

    And in a statement of the "NewsHour," Instacart says that it saw no major impact on its operations from this strike. The company said that, because of higher demand, its workers' earnings have increased by more than 40 percent month over month and are seeing, on average, a 30 percent increase in customer tips.

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