Instacart to lay off 10 employees at Skokie-based Mariano’s

A+sign+outside+Whole+Foods+Market+in+Evanston+last+spring.+Instacart+is+laying+off+more+than+1%2C800+employees+this+March%2C+including+10+Skokie+shoppers+who+were+the+first+Instacart+workers+to+unionize.

Daily file photo by Catherine Buchaniec

A sign outside Whole Foods Market in Evanston last spring. Instacart is laying off more than 1,800 employees this March, including 10 Skokie shoppers who were the first Instacart workers to unionize.

Christina Van Waasbergen, Reporter

The grocery-delivery company Instacart plans to lay off nearly 1,900 employees in March, including its first and only shoppers to unionize: 10 employees at a Mariano’s grocery store in Skokie. 

The company has seen a dramatic escalation in value during the pandemic, reaching an estimated value of up to $30 billion. Most of its workers are “full-service shoppers” who drive to different stores and deliver orders to customers. They are considered independent contractors, meaning they set their own schedules and get paid per completed order. 

A smaller set of Instacart employees — fewer than 10,000 — are “in-store shoppers” who gather groceries for orders in one store. They are considered part-time employees who have set schedules and receive hourly pay. Their status as employees also means in-store shoppers are able to unionize. 

A group of 10 in-store shoppers at the Skokie Mariano’s voted last February to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1546, inspiring labor organization among Instacart workers across the country.

In the days leading up to the vote, high-level Instacart managers visited the store and distributed anti-union literature. After the vote, the company told Vice it “will always support employee freedom and choice, and we respect our employees’ rights to explore unionization.”

The Skokie-based employees were in the process of negotiating their first contract when Instacart announced the layoffs of more than 1,800 in-store shoppers. Instacart said in a Jan. 19 blog post the layoffs are the result of some retail chains, including Kroger, which owns Mariano’s, transitioning to a new model of service where store employees use Instacart’s technology to fill orders.

“We know this is an incredibly challenging time for many as we move through the COVID-19 crisis, and we’re doing everything we can to support in-store shoppers through this transition,” Instacart said in the blog post.

With Phase 1B of Illinois’ vaccination rollout having begun on Jan. 25, Chicago-area grocery store employees — including Instacart workers — can now get vaccinated. However, those laid off are no longer eligible. 

According to Vice, a spokesperson for Kroger denied that the company was involved in Instacart’s decision to suspend its in-store operations.

UFCW issued a statement calling on Instacart to immediately halt the layoffs and respect workers’ right to unionize.

“All across the country, Instacart grocery workers have been bravely serving on the frontlines since the pandemic began, putting their own health at risk to ensure Americans have the food they need during this crisis,” the statement said. “Now, with COVID-19 outbreaks spiraling out of control, it is outrageous that Instacart would fire these courageous and hard-working men and women keeping our food supply secure.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @cvanwaasbergen

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