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Grocery delivery workers report delays in getting protective gear

Grocery delivery workers report delays in getting protective gear
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Workers at two grocery delivery firms are reporting delays in getting personal protective equipment (PPE) from the companies, even as cities begin to require customers to wear masks to enter the stores. 

A dozen shoppers at Shipt and Instacart recounted delays, unfilled commitments, and challenges in getting masks, hand sanitizer and gloves in interviews Monday with The Hill.

“Instacart and Shipt [are] spending all of their time working on their PR, trying to sound good, but not actually doing anything that helps workers,” a spokesperson for the organizing group Gig Workers Collective told The Hill.

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“They're all saying, ‘We’re doing this and that,’ but we still don't have any PPE,” the spokesperson added.

Demand for the firms has exploded as states and cities recommend individuals stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Shipt sent an email, reviewed by The Hill, on April 5 to all of its shoppers saying that they could pick up gloves and masks from any Target, the grocery delivery company’s owner.

The email also recommended “using the CDC’s latest resource to make your own cloth face covering out of cloth or old t‑shirts” if shoppers needed a mask immediately.

Multiple workers said their local stores did not have equipment for them, and many locations seemed unaware that they were supposed to have the protective gear. The workers who spoke to The Hill asked that their last names not be used for fear of reprisal.

“When I was walking through I asked if I could have my protective gear and they said it was only for Target employees,” Maria, a shopper in Dallas, told The Hill.

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Tony, a shopper in Kalamazoo, Mich., recounted a similar experience, saying that Target could not tell him when to expect gear to be available.

Other shoppers didn’t even try to get gloves and masks from Target because they had heard from fellow shoppers that they would be turned away and because the offering itself wasn’t worth the risk.

Shipt on April 5 offered workers in coronavirus hot spots a kit with gloves and hand sanitizer.

Multiple shoppers shared confirmation emails with The Hill showing that they placed orders on April 5 for the kits but did not receive any shipping information and have no idea when the gear will arrive.

“Three weeks from now, this isn't going to be helpful for us,” Abbie, from Georgia, told The Hill.

“At this point, it's putting me at too much risk. ... I probably will be done this week shopping until they can guarantee that we're safe,” said a Shipt worker named Christina, who ordered equipment eight days ago and has not received shipping info.

Shipt told The Hill that many Target locations have already received supplies to give to shoppers and that “other stores will receive them in the coming days.” They also said that workers in hot spots should expect to begin receiving their kits this week. 

Instacart announced April 2 that it would be providing each full-service shopper with a kit including a reusable face mask, hand sanitizer and a thermometer following the strike.

Shoppers can request kits on Instacart’s website. They can also request a single bottle of hand sanitizer.

Instacart shoppers who spoke to The Hill said the kits were labeled as either coming soon or unable to be ordered until Sunday night, when they became available for preorder. Sanitizer has continuously been sold out, according to the shoppers.

Jordan, from Portland, Ore., said that even after preordering, she remains in the dark about when she’ll be able to safely return to work.

“I'm not gonna go out there and endanger people without the proper equipment,” she told The Hill.

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A spokesperson for Instacart said the kits “will be available to ship as soon as today” and that the company started delivering its own hand sanitizer to shoppers last week.

When asked about that update, the Gig Workers Collective spokesperson told The Hill that workers have “no understanding of how many kits are available and when they'll actually receive them.”

“The virus has been peaking since last week, and we are still without adequate protection. In addition to failing to provide their current workforce with these PPE kits, Instacart has since hired an additional 150,000 new workers that are also working without PPE,” the spokesperson added.

The reported delays in providing protective equipment come as some major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have begun requiring masks for customers to enter stores.