Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The Gig Worker “Strike” That Wasn’t

To listen to Vice tell it, Monday’s planned gig worker “strike” was the country’s biggest labor action since the 1936 General Motors workers sit-down in Flint, Michigan:

Instacart shoppers are planning a nationwide mass revolt over the grocery delivery app’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. … The March 30 walkout will build on a wave of wildcat strikes sweeping across the country …  leading to calls for a “general strike,” or mass strike action across the country.

USA Today reported that more than 150,000 Instacart shoppers and customers would “walk off the job” today. (It’s unclear how a gig worker who doesn’t gig, or customer who decides not to use the app, can “walk off” a job–but set that aside.) Meanwhile, TechCrunch said that online retail giant Amazon would face a “bevy” of strike activity today. 

The strikes are part of a larger labor union campaign to organize these workers and turn them into dues-paying members. But if you strained to see the impact of the so-called strike on Monday, you’re not alone.

Axios reported that the strike had “absolutely no impact” on Instacart’s operations, citing a statement from the company. Relative to this time last week, the “platform had 40% more workers on it…” That’s basically the exact opposite of what a successful strike should accomplish.

Independent verification of this was visible around the country. In Lancaster County, PA, for instance, one local reporter found that the service was “operating normally.”  In central Oregon, a group of Instacart shoppers took to local media to confirm that they would not be participating in the strike, and viewed being an independent contractor as a perk of the job rather than a drawback.

Amazon’s antagonists didn’t fare much better: The company confirmed that just 15 people out of a workforce of 5,000 participated in the Staten Island demonstration”–a participation rate of less than one percent. 

Unions have struggled in recent years to reverse membership declines in the private-sector, and view the tech industry as fertile ground. But if today’s poor showing is any indication, the workers don’t want what the union is selling.
Categories: Gig WorkersWorkers Center