The economy has shut down considerably in the United States so that people can shelter in place and slow the spread of COVID-19, but not all workers are able to do so. Essential workers include those who work in the food industry, not only the producers but also grocery store workers. One group of workers that is in high demand is the personal shopper who will buy what people order and deliver it to their homes. Shipt Shoppers, who do this work, have had pay cuts and are not being provided with what they need to protect themselves and their customers from contracting COVID-19. We speak with Robin Pape, a gig worker who is helping to lead the fight back to demand that Shipt Shoppers are protected and compensated for the hazardous work they are doing. Their fight is representative of what many essential workers are facing during the pandemic.
Robin Pape is a social worker and a gig worker who lives in upstate New York. Learn more here.
Margaret Flowers (MF): This week we interviewed Robin Pape. She is a gig worker in central New York she works for a company called Shipt Shoppers.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): And that’s a company that basically goes to the store, shops for people, and then delivers it to people’s homes. It’s a really great service, especially during the coronavirus.
MF: She makes an excellent point that it’s much better to have fewer people in the stores delivering food to a lot of people than a lot of people going to the stores. Unfortunately, gig workers are not being treated very well right now and Shipt Shoppers are fighting back. So stay tuned for that interview so you can find out more about that. We recorded the interview on Friday April 10th, which was actually a day where they were calling for a boycott of Sshipt Shoppers to support their demands. But before we get to that interview, there’s a lot in the news. Let’s start out with some information that was released about Julian Assange this past week his partner and the mother of their two children spoke out.
KZ: Julian Assange, one of his lawyers, who was became part legal team in 2011, met almost every day as a part of his legal defense. So by 2015 they became personally involved, became partners and produced two children.
MF: She talks about how having a family was an effort to establish some normalcy in Julian’s life at a time when the establishment was trying to do everything to tear him down. But what was interesting is that they had previously kept her identity and the fact that there were two children secret because of threats, and judge Barrett’s are who’s been a terrible judge in the Assange case, said that that privacy was not necessary and was going to release her name. So she decided that she wanted to release her name first and explain more about her relationship with Julian Assange.
KZ: Wikileaks produced a video of her describing the evolution of their relationship and why she was going public, and that is something we published on popular resistance and publish on other sides as well.
MF: You can find out in Consortium News as well.
KZ: She went public because she feels like Julian Assange’s life is at stake and it’s really threatened by the captivity he’s being held in.
MF: She’s worried that he’s coming to the end of his life and said that she believes that people have failed Assange. So we need to continue to remember that Assange is in prison. He shouldn’t be in prison, particularly with his declining health situation. He should not be in prison where he’s at a higher risk of Contracting COVID-19. Let’s talk about some news that’s not really in the news, although it’s should be in the news. You remember when Bernie Sanders was accused of saying that a woman couldn’t for president, and it was in the news all over the place for a week.
KZ: Elizabeth Warren basically through that attack out.
MF: Well, there’s a woman, Tara Reid, who worked for Joe Biden who has a credible allegation of sexual molestation, and people that she told the story to at the time that it happened who are backing her up, and yet radio silence.
KZ: It’s really interesting that this allegation comes out and then Sanders stops his campaign. You would think that when that kind of a cloud is hanging over a candidate’s head, it’s not a time to back out of your campaign. It’s the time to stay in and see how this plays out. And this was first broken in the media outside of the corporate media. I mean, the mainstream media. The New York Times find an article which was balance in favor of Joe Biden I’d say, but still at least got the story out. And you know, I saw her interviewed on other outlets and she is very credible.
MF: There have been other complaints.
KZ: There have been been other complaints and there are seven complaints so far. That’s what made her come out, by the way, and she’s been trying to get this out for more than a year.
MF: Well, this is what’s interesting. Because if you look at the way that the establishment has responded to her allegations. Of course, Joe Biden has been chosen by the Democratic Party machine to be their candidate and the media has been complicit with that. She went to Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, both saying your proponents of women’s rights. Will you help me tell the story? Both of them declined? She went to the me to movement. They wouldn’t help her. So they’re only “me too” if you support their political agenda.
KZ: Well met too is a very Democratic oriented thing, because it’s really an anti-trump focused. You know, the whole women’s March… I mean it’s very Democrat oriented. There are serious serious problems with male sexual abuse of women. There’s no question about that. So I’m glad this is coming out, but it’s a shame this woman didn’t get any attention for it. She tried so hard and now people saying, “why’d you wait so long now? You just did it while he’s the nominee.” No, she actually has been trying for a year to get this out.
MF: Definitely allegations of sexual abuse or things that we should be taking seriously, and people should be pressing the media. If this person is running to be the president of the United States people need to know more about the situation.
KZ: We already have a president of the United States that has a lot of credible allegations against him as well. And so it’s like it’s really a sad situation… a sad state of affairs for US politics that the two candidates for president in 2020 will both have these kinds of allegations, that are all credible allegations. And just shows a real problem with women’s rights in the United States.
MF: Let’s talk about the COVID-19 Let’s do an update on that. Right wow the number of cases in the United States is nearing 600,000, far outstripping any other country in the world.
KZ: In other countries over a hundred fifty thousand.
MF: And New York is over a hundred and fifty thousand, and is the second highest place in the world for COVID-19. And our hearts really go out to all of you in New York who are doing your best to try to stop the spread of infection and take care of patients and loved ones. We have over 23,000 deaths already in the United States. And things are continuing to escalate, although people are doing a good job of trying to shelter in place. But in the face of that this past week Trump threatened to withhold funding to the World Health Organization because he’s accusing them of not alerting us soon enough to this pandemic.
KZ: One reason why this is happening is because more information is coming out about how the US knew before January… in fact the World Health Organization was informed late December, on December 31st. China didn’t realize it was a coronavirus until January 7th. But before then they called the United States government. They called the Center for Disease Control. Alex Azar knew about it. The National Security Council knew about it in early January, before China even knew it was a coronavirus.
MF: They didn’t know was a new coronavirus, and they didn’t know that there was a human to human transmission until the second week of January. That’s when those first cases began. So in the first couple weeks it wasn’t clear what this was going to be about, but still China alerted the appropriate authorities and the US was one of those bodies that was alerted.
KZ: Aand now Alex Azar, the Secretary of HHS… he’s a pretty conservative former pharmaceutical lobbyists leader of HHS… is under the thumb of Trump because now it’s coming out in the press that he was urging Trump to take stronger action, warning him that this could be a serious virus. CDC as well. National Security Council, Secretary of Commerce. A number of people were warning Trump. Take this seriously. And he was saying it’s going to go away. He was saying… when he was in at the world economic Forum… he was saying we’ve had one Chinese person coming to the United States. We’ve got it under control. It’s not a big deal. He then I said it’s a hoax, you know, just over and over again. He was making mistake after mistake. And this threat to World Health Organization is another mistake.
MF: Well, apparently there were some internal memos that have been now found from Peter Navarro who warned the president in late January…
KZ: Navarroi is the Secretary of Commerce.
MF: … that there could be up to five hundred thousand deaths, and the cost to the economy could be six billion dollars. In late February he issued another memo saying there could be up to two million deaths in the United States. So he was trying to sound the alarm at least within the administration.
KZ: And so the threat to the World Health Organization is a way for Trump to blame somebody else, rather than blame himself. He was warned and warned and warned. They did not follow the protocol for pandemics that was developed from previous pandemics. He did not listen to the advisors who were saying this is serious. Instead he listened to Jared Kushner who’s was saying it’s no big deal. And how here we are. The reason why the numbers from the United States are so different from the rest of the world is because this has been mishandled for the first two and a half months that we knew about it. And that blame goes to the Trump Administration. President Trump as well as many leaders of his administration. It really should be something that makes him not acceptable for president United States in 2020, but I think more is finally coming out about Trump’s role and his administration’s way of mishandling this and causing all these illnesses and deths.
MF: Propublica did a really excellent report on looking at the money that is being spent on the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. They found that the White House did an unprecedented action where they pushed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give a federal contract to a Canadian defense company that has an office in Maryland called Air Boss, the largest contract given out of the COVID-19 money… 96 million dollars… was given to this Canadian company without any bidding process at all. The White House intervened and called FEMA and said give them the contract. This is pretty unprecedented for FEMA to be told who to give a contract to.
KZ: Well, Congress has appropriated lots of money, trillions of dollars, and that money is not going to be watched very closely. Trump has already fired inspector generals and says he’s going to ignore any kind of oversight. When you have trillions of dollars at risk and an election year, that is a recipe for disastrous corruption. People will get a hundred million dollar contract and make a donation of a million dollars to the Republican National Committee. That’s the kind of thing we’re going to see start see coming out… that kind of corruption. And I’d be interested to see what this Canadian company, what their ties are determined ministration and why they got this special contract.
MF: Another thing in the news is that slaughterhouses are closing down, meat processing plants. The workers, because of becoming sick, or being worried about becoming sick in that environment, are walking out. So we may see less meat in the stores.
KZ: They’re angry. We’re seeing grocery workers testing positive for COVID as well. And so grocery workers, these essential workers, are not getting hazard pay, not getting their protection. They’re getting angry for being mistreated. They are essential workers and should be treated as essential workers.
MF: Oxfam has a new report. They find that half a billion more people in the world are likely to go into poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This would mean that over half of the population in the world would be living in poverty. And of course parts of the world that are going to be impacted most severely, as always, is the global South, where there’s already such poverty. They’re calling for an emergency rescue package for all. They recognize that many governments are trying to do their own kind of rescue packages as the US did here, as inadequate as it is. But they say there really needs to be a global one. The United Nations is estimating 2.5 trillion dollars, canceling all debts all countries debts, and then making available new money… cash injections into those countries, particularly so they can expand investment in their healthcare systems to handle the crisis.
KZ: Even those are global numbers. If you look at those kinds of numbers the United States, we have very high levels of poverty. Half the population is food insecure already. The food quality in the United States has lots of problems. The whole food chain is a major problem. Debts are an incredible problem United States. The highest consumer debt ever. Student debt is dragging down multiple generations. We need to put those kinds of policies that are being talked about by Oxfam in place in the United States as well.
MF: Absolutely and other countries are doing that. But in the United States in the past three weeks, as nearly 17 million workers have filed for unemployment… new filings for unemployment… really leaps and bounds beyond previous records of filings for unemployment… five million people have lost their insurance, their health insurance, in the last three weeks, and researchers estimate that by the end of June there will be 13 .5 million more people without insurance. That will bring the number of uninsured in the US up to around 43 million, which is about where it was in 2008 when people were pushing for healthcare reform. And the Federal Reserve estimates that 47 million workers nationwide will lose their jobs by the end of June. So we’re still considering to see some real serious impacts from this economic recession.
KZ: Government leaders are really hoping to see a leveling off or a downward trend in cases and deaths, but it’s hard to see that. And it’s hard to see that, maybe in New York, but there are a lot of other cities that are just getting started. Our state, Maryland, is is going through a rapid increase in cases right now. So with that kind of rolling reality across the country of different cities and states at different phases of the virus, it’s hard to see a leveling off of the virus happening in the near future. It highlights the reality that healthcare should not be tied to employment. That was a mistake of history. It was not a planned approach to how to get healthcare to people. It was just because there were controls in place during World War II such that there was no way to raise people’s incomes. So they instead provided healthcare to workers as an incentive for workers, and now we’re stuck with it. But it’s not a sensible way to provide healthcare. You should have healthcare whether you work or not. Healthcare is a human right, and it should be with you from birth to death, and there is only one way to do that. And that is a single-payer, Medicare-for-all or some kind of National healthcare system better than insurance.
MF: Right. There was also a poll that came out in the past week from the Society for Human Resource Management that found that half of small businesses will not be able to pay their employees for a full month of this shut down. 4% of them expect to close their doors. 58 percent of workers cannot meet their needs, even some of them for weeks in this shutdown. And more than fifty percent of workers are not able to to work remotely. For people who work in what are called the physical Industries, things like construction and manufacturing, 72 percent of them are economically insecure. People who are service workers… 62 percent of them are economically insecure. And then when you come to the what are called the knowledge Industries, so people in insurance law government … only 38 percent of that population can meet their needs. So it really highlights this kind of class divide in the States.
KZ: All the shortcomings of the US economy are being magnified now. This crisis is bringing out reality in ways that we knew were there, but were not as easily seen, and now they’re being seen. And it’s going to get worse. I mean, we just talked about health insurance. What is the health insurance industry going to do when there’s 40 million people no longer paying their premiums.
MF: Right. At time when there’s more costs for healthcare
KZ: What kind of bailout are they going to be getting from the from the US government?
MF: Well, I think that if they ask for a bailout, it’s time to tell them goodbye. It’s time to nationalize our healthcare system, or at least nationalize our health insurance as a first step.
KZ: Of course you thought that before the coronavirus as well.
MF: Yeah, but this is a unique opportunity.
KZ: No, I agree. I agree
MF: It’s common sense. I mean the Affordable Care Act, you know, the biggest positive out of it was that it gave Medicaid to a lot more people. But it also was a huge bailout to the health insurance industry. They are getting hundreds of billions of dollars every year in subsidies for people to purchase their product. And then what do they do? They turn around and they try to raise the premiums as much as they can. They’re raising the out-of-pocket costs and then they’re restricting what care people can get. They’ve created these ultra-narrow networks.
KZ:And Joe Biden doesn’t ask, “how can we afford that?”
MF: Nobody ever asks, how can we afford it, if it’s you know, something like war or bailing out Wall Street. But when it comes to what people need it’s, “how are we going to pay for that?” But the point is that they don’t do anything positive for our healthcare system. In fact, they detract from it because they become an obstacle between patients and the healthcare that they need. They’re sucking hundreds of billions a year out of our healthcare system into their profits. CEOs of insurance companies are some of the highest-paid CEOs= there are. So we just need to be ready to make that demand and say, “No. Private health insurance must go,” which was the name of a single-payer group that used to organize in New York City. But I’ll get off my soapbox now.
Let’s talk about some of the ways that people are fighting back because in this last rescue package, it was definitely the wealthy who benefited the most, and now people are really struggling. People have not gotten their checks for the twelve hundred dollars, at a time was when rent is due. And so many people around the country are organizing rent strikes, and calling for rent strikes in April. There’s one big complex in Alexandria Virginia, a five tower apartment complex, where the residents are organizing to strike and say, “we’re not paying our rent until a month after the pandemic is over.”
KZ: And that’s just one of many strikes. We’re going to hear in the interview later from the Shipt Shoppers and their call for a strike. We are seeing Amazon strikes. We are seeing calls for general strikes. McDonalds’s workers saying, “our life is more valuable than fast food.” These realities are hitting hard. We are in the beginning of another phase of the popular movement that’s been developing really for the most of the century.
MF: Well, we’ve been covering how strikes have been rising over the past two years, but now we’re seeing a really rapid escalation a real strike wave.
KZ: The last two years were record strikes four, for more than 30 years. So there have been more than just strikes. They’ve been RECORD strikes for two years in a row, and now we have this on top of it. This is because workers never recovered from the last economic collapse. They have never been treated fairly. They haven’t gotten a real raise since the 1970s. That is the root problem in our economy. Our economy is flawed at the bottom. If the foundation the economy is flawed, you’re not gonna have a healthy economy. And this is a problem with trickle-down economics. Feed the people at the top. They will make lots of money. They’ll urinate down to the foundation. The foundation is falling apart, and that’s been a mistake of US economic since the early 1980s.
MF: Spain is moving in an interesting direction. They’ve they’re talking about providing a permanent basic income out of this crisis. Although initially when it was first announced people thought it was going to be for everybody. Now it looks like it may just be for those who are financially insecure and need it, but that’s interesting as a permanent change that they’re talking about in Spain.
KZ: And it’s something that we need to be talking about here. That twelve hundred dollar payment… first off, the Democrats right now have the power to make that demand. President Trump needs a good economy for his re-election. The economy is in desperate shape. People are struggling. That $1,200 dollar payment should be a $1,200 payment every two weeks for the length of the pandemic. Maybe a month beyond that so the economy get’s going again. That’s what the Democrats should be demanding right now. They’re not. They have the power to make that demand because they control the house. They need to Democrat votes in the Senate. They can’t pass anything without Democrats. Where the Democrats? They’re not fighting for the people.
MF: Right. We should let our listeners know that April 15th is a national day of action for healthcare workers, those on the front line who are working incredibly hard risking their lives…. Some of them are dying. They’re not being protected properly, and they’re doing a national day of action across the country. It will manifest itself in different ways, but the hashtag for that is #TheSystemIsBroken, and they’re calling for a national, improved Medicare-for-all healthcare system as well as other demands, such as appropriate staffing…
KZ: Safety protections for workers.
MF: Right. So I hope that people will support their healthcare workers on Wednesday, April 15th. Over this past weekend people around the country also rallied to protect our postal service. The postal service has been under attack for a long time. The pandemic has caused a real drop off in the use of the post office. It’s a self-funding institution and so over the weekend lots of people went online and started purchasing stamps and other items from the postal service store, to try to give up a bottom-up injection of cash into them. But the post office is saying, “what we really need is change at the congressional level and for people all to contact their member of congress.”
KZ: Well Congress has been trying to privatize the post office for all of this century, since the George W Bush era put in place incredible laws that require them to buy health insurance and pensions for people who aren’t even hired yet… just requirements that no business would be required to make. As you said, they are self funding institution. They don’t get any tax dollars, and that people don’t really realize that. It’s a non taxpayer-funded organization, except for customers purchasing stamps and shipping services. And so people have been buying stamps to try to help the post office, and I think that’s a good idea. But I think we have to have systemic change that really protects the post office. It’s the largest employer of black males in the country. It’s a major employer of working class people. A very solid job for people, and if that gets privatized and is taken over by UPS or Federal Express or some other private entity, it’ll become…
MF: an exploitive worker model, like everything else
KZ: … like UPS workers are exploded, and FedEx.
MF: Yeah, so I pulled up an old clip from 2015 when we interviewed president Mark Diminstein. He’s the president of the American Postal Workers Union.
KZ: He’s done a great job.
MF: And he’s been one of the leaders of the Grand Alliance, which is a coalition of the four postal unions as well as many organizations. Popular resistance is a member, but let’s listen to that clip, and he explains the attack that the postal service has been under, so we can understand when we call our member of congress, why the postal service is in the situation that it is. Let’s play that clip start out by telling our listeners a little bit about what’s going on with the Postal Service. Well, you know, what’s making it analyze it under attack? What’s happening?
Mark Diminstein (MD): Well, you know, the reason it’s under attack, to be simple about it, is to follow the money. The post office takes in about sixty eight billion a year. It’s not taxpayer-funded. That money comes from the users. Those of us who buy stamps and mail packages, and so on and so forth. And it’s public. So there are certainly those that want to privatize the post office and get their hands on that money, make a profit off of it, rather than have the post office be part of the public good, kept in the public sphere and here for generations to come. So in essence there’s a struggle going on as to the two visions of the post office. Those who are running the post office, certainly the Board of Governors, have been on a slash and burn approach of cutting services, cutting jobs and privatizing. And the American postal workers union and the other postal unions have a vision of of expanded services and better hours of operation… better ways to serve the people because in essence, it’s a service. It’s not a business. And and so that’s that’s what’s going on. And and there is a real struggle going on as to what direction the future to post office is going to be in this country,
KZ: That is a critical struggle, not just for the post office but also for so many other issues that affects. You know, I mentioned at this top of the show that the post office employees more African-Americans in the US than anyone else. And so the impact of those solid, middle-class jobs with benefits, leaving the black community if they privatize… Because that’s what they will do. They’ll slash and burn. All those jobs will disappear and they’ll shut down post offices all over the country, even more than two already doing. And then it’s the whole issue of privatization. It’s a great opportunity to educate about privatization. So can yo explain… The post office brings in a lot of money, but it’s in the red. Can you explain why that is?
MD: It’s a manufactured crisis by congress. We call it a hoax. So in 2006 congress passed a law called the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act, that forced the Postal Service to pay $5.5 billion dollars a year for 10 years. That’s 55 billion dollars… to fund retiree healthcare costs. Not pensions. Healthcare costs 75 years into the future. So this is an institution that was forced to do something no other institution is forced to do. No other company has to do it. And this is for workers that aren’t even born yet. Not only workers that don’t work at the post office yet. So what’s happened is is that has created a financial crisis behind which the forces of privatization, the forces of cutting and burning, say, “well we have to do something to save money. We’re broke.” The reality is that we’re not for this pre-funding mandate, the post office is actually doing quite well. There are changes. The internet has affected first class mail, but we have a saying that the internet taketh and the internet giveth. And while first class mail is is down, package delivery has explode. I have daughters who are grown, and they don’t use the post office the same way that my wife and I do. They tend to pay some bills online. But guess what? They order stuff online that I never dreamed of. And every time that’s done, there’s a package that the post office is in a great position to service. So that is the hoax. Congress created the problem. Congress should fix the problem. As of yet they haven’t.
KZ: I think they’re actually just fattening the calf for the privatizers who can come in and reap the profits of all that money. You know, 55 billion dollars in the bank.
MD: They’re moving it over to the federal treasury to use for whatever they want.
KZ: want. Oh my god. Wow, that’s worse.
MF: Okay, so we hope that everybody will take action. Call your member of Congress. If you need some help with that go to popularresistance.org and we have articles there that talk about what’s going on and what you should be saying to your member of Congress. Let’s talk a little bit about foreign policy. You know, as people around the world countries around the world, have been rallying to help each other out, the United States has actually been escalating its aggression through military threats against Iran and Venezuela, as well as increasing the economic sanctions against many countries. So peace activists in the United States have been trying to figure out what we can do, and have been very active trying to push back against these military aggressions and sanctions. One thing that people can do is sign a letter that’s being circulated to both the US government and the United Nations calling for an end to the sanctions.
KZ: And that’s on popular resistance dot org, and other actions you can take as well. People are also using social media to express their support for Venezuela. Taking a picture of themselves, holding a sign saying “hands off Venezuela, stop the sanctions” and urging people to call their members of Congress to end these illegal, unilateral coercive measures being used against Venezuela and other countries.
MF: And the hashtag for that is #FightCOVIDnotVenezuela. There’s also an international week of action coming up at the end of May, May 25th to May 31st, that many peace organizations in the United States are signing on to. And there’s also information about that on Pilar resistance dot-org, but we’re hoping that people around the country will organize, whether it’s virtually, you know, we don’t know what the situation is going to be at that point, but we do need to push back against these. So check out the May 25th to May thirty first week of actions. You know last week President Trump signed another order actually saying that the United States can go off earth to get resources. So mining on the moon, things like that. Russia pushed back very harshly against that, saying that that violates our International laws that actually treat space as a commons, and not a place that individual country is can go and just exploit.
KZ: It’s a commons that all of the world should benefit from. It’s a commons that should be demilitarized and stay a non-military area. The United States since the Reagan era has been trying to move towards Star Wars, now to the space force under Trump. This has been an ongoing effort by the United States. Ignoring the treaty that protects outer space as a commons. We need to go back to recognizing that outer space is for the globe. It’s not for one country to dominate the planet.
MF: The United States has also been supporting efforts through the United Nations to update the treaty about space. And many countries around the world are pushing to strengthen the treaty, treating space as a commons, keeping weapons out of it, but the US has been an obstacle to that.
KZ: We did a whole show on this a few weeks ago with Bruce Gagnon. You can get it on popular resistance dot org slash podcast.
MF: Or on the archives at WBAI. But I think one of my favorite articles this week was by Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies. It talks about the United Nations secretary, Antonio Guiterez, calling for a global ceasefire, and it’s titled “the Global Ceasefire Means that War is a Non-Essential Activity.”
KZ: War is a non-essential activity. It’s so true, and I’m glad to see that potentially the Yemen war might be winding down. That’s a positive step. But we have too many conflicts that are ongoing. We saw this week that a sailor on the USS Teddy Roosevelt died of COVID-19. That can be a risk for all soldiers around the world. It’s really time to follow the General Secretary’s advice and stop these conflicts. And do that during this pandemic and hopefully do that even longer.
MF: Right. At the end of the article they write about the fact that the aggression the United States is waging around the world is in violation of the United Nations Charter. And so if we don’t need to be at war with each other right now, maybe after the pandemic is over is a time to start adhering to these International charters and laws.
KZ: Time to become a world beyond war. War is uncivilized.
MF: That’s right. So let’s stop with that. We’ll take a short musical break and then we’ll be back with our interview with Robin Pape.
MF: And now we’ll turn to our guest Robin Pape. She is a social worker and a gig worker in Upstate New York. Thank you for taking time to join us Robin.
Robin Vape (RP): Thank you for taking some time to shed light on what’s going on with us.
KZ: We appreciate that you’re taking the time to let our viewers know what’s going on? Let’s start with a simple question what our Shipt Shoppers and what do you do?
RP: So Shipt Shoppers are independent contractors and we are personal shoppers for the public. We receive orders on our phone. We take our vehicles to the store and shop at many different retailers for whatever the customer has ordered. And then deliver it to the customer.
MF: Right now Shipt Shoppers across the country are organizing and pushing back, particularly against Target stores, because of the way that they’re being treated. Can describe… for Gig workers just even outside of the COVID-19 pandemic… how our gig workers generally treated by the stores where they do the shopping.
RP: So even before COVID-19, Shipt Shoppers have had issues with Shipt. We’ve been really silenced as a group and I’ve reached a point where I’m not okay with being silenced anymore. Whatever happens happens, but people are deactivated from the platform for speaking out. And so that makes people really not say was the problems are. Shipt has had problems with tips for a long time, with customers and Shoppers reporting to them that shoppers don’t receive them. Or customers aren’t given the action to tip. So these are things that have been reported to Shipt for a long time, and it makes up a significant portion of our income from this gig. So that’s been an issue. And then early this year they rolled out a pay model. They already had a pay model in four or five other cities, but now they’ve started testing their version 2K model, which has resulted in a loss of income for the people who have been experiencing it. Fortunately it hasn’t come to my area yet. But when it does I can’t imagine it will be worth my time any longer. With everything going on was COVID, we’re dealing with the fact that our pay has been cut. We’re being told that were essential and so important to helping people really isolate and flatten the curve. And for a lot of us this is a really big deal, and we want to do our part. And for one person to shop for 20 people, is a lot better than those 20 people going to the store themselves. Many of us have pre-existing condition or are vulnerable for other reasons that make this kind of work really what works best for us. It’s not like we can just go find a different job or quit working, because we need this income, and it doesn’t really allow for us to have much in savibngs. So our pay has been cut and now we’re in the middle of this pandemic, which has us all afraid. And we’re not being given any protective gear. I know where we’ve been told that it’s coming. Now would be nice, and it’s really unclear how or when or any of that going to happen. So the stores are out of stock. Customers want what they want. We can always get it, and that reflects on us poorly. We’re also having to spend more time in stores trying to find substitutions or other options for customers. And that’s just further risking exposure. So we’re asking for a little bit more right now to protect our health and our safety, and to make this worth putting ourselves at risk.
KZ: This sounds like a really great service and during this pandemic. I mean, you’re exactly right, having one person do the shopping rather than multiple people go in the store. It just makes so much sense, and it’s just bizarre to me that you say that you’re pay has actually been cut, rather than increased. You should be getting some kind of hazard pay at this point. Tell me about what kind of pay cut you’ve had and what the rationale for the cut was.
RP: The version one pay, which existed in almost all markets prior to the beginning of this year, was… you would receive five dollars per shop, along with 7.5 percent of the receipt total. So if a customer added on items it would increase your pay. You are motivated and inclined to add on as much stuff as they wanted, and you could fit it into your schedule. That system seem to work very well. There were still issues with tipping, and it didn’t take into account the distance from the store that a customer might live. So there were still some issues, but it would fall for better than it is now for the shoppers who are experiencing version 2. And what version 2 did was… it’s algorithm-based. It’s a black box. We don’t really know. There’s no transparency anymore. But we do know that the orders often pay less than what they would have otherwise. It’s not coming out to five dollars plus 7.5 percent of the receipt total. We also know that no matter how much gets added on to the order, our pay is not going to go up anymore.
KZ: And what was the reason for this change?
RP: You know, I’m not aware of a reason.
KZ: Probably for them to make more money.
RP: Right. I mean if I had to put all hypothetical out there, that would probably be what it was. I know that Target recently bought Shipt maybe a year ago. I don’t know the exact date, after I started working for them. And there may be something where now there are stockholders, and so I don’t know if any of that might have anything to do with making things more profitable, but it certainly wasn’t to benefit shoppers, or to enable us to provide an even higher quality service that we already do.
MF: We’re weeks into this pandemic now. Have the Shipt Shoppers received any protective equipment?
RP: I’m not aware of any shopper having received any protective equipment. I’m a moderator on a private Facebook group for Shipt shoppers, where we can criticize the company and try to share what’s going on in our own markets. I’m not aware of anyone having received them, and like you said, we’re several weeks into this and they’re saying you’ll have it in two weeks and we’re going to send it to hot spots. I mean all of these… it’s the difference between actually having these products to use and keep safe and deliver products, and right now it’s not. And so in addition to delivering toilet paper and Amy’s frozen pizza, I could be delivering COVID. Any one of us could be. And if we had these precautions, this perspective equipment, maybe we could do a better job of making sure that’s not the case.
MF: Right. And how about if Shipt Shoppers do get sick? What are the policies on that? Are you protected?
RP: Well their newest policy on this… what they’re saying now is that they consider these things on a case-by-case basis. They’re almost acknowledging that they have set the bar too high for it to be accessible for anyone, without really telling us what the new bar is. Once you’re diagnosed or told by your doctor that you need to go home and stay home, we can’t then learn that before we will pay you, we need you to go and get these things. And that’s what’s happened in many cases. It doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions. So it doesn’t say, “well you’re more vulnerable.We’re going to pay you to stay home.” You have to actually get tested and tests aren’t easy to come by, you know, you’re more likely to be diagnosed by your doctor. And if you have mild symptoms, you’re told not to go get tested. Your’re told to stay home. So there’s just a lot of there’s a lack of clarity and how supposed to access this pay. It doesn’t seem like it includes everyone that it should.
KZ: So what kind of actions are the Shipt Shoppers taking to push for these changes?
RP: Well, there was not working this week, to demonstrate that we we weren’t interested in sacrificing ourselves when the company seems to care so little about us. And then today customers were asked to not place orders, and it’s hard for us to know… it’s hard for anyone to really know, whether or not these actions have any effect… if they do any damage to the bottom line, to their financial whatever, but what we do know is that it’s gotten a lot of media attention and people are talking about it now and ways that they weren’t before. So in that regard, we are successful.=
KZ: It’s so absurd because if they were smart, they would basically make a big advertising marketing deal out of this saying, “we provide you shoppers who will deliver to your home for your safety during the virus. And we’re paying them, we’re making sure that these shoppers are safe.” You know, it could have been a good marketing effort by them in the middle of this virus to increase the use of Shipt Shoppers. It just it’s such a dumb capitalist move.
RP: I agree completely and I think it would have been an excellent marketing, and they could have gotten a lot of loyal customers out of this. You know, stealing customers from the other guys who aren’t doing anything. But I think a piece of it is that we are considered independent contractors in name only. By providing the kinds of training equipment that would be helpful, they would really be blurring the lines between independent contractors and employees. nd I think they want to be careful of that too.
KZ: Is that that because if you’re employees you have more rights?
MF: I think I understand that. Target is actually paying their employees in their stores. They gave them a raise. Is that right?
RP: That’s what I’ve heard. That’s what I’ve seen reported, is that the employees are getting a two dollar raise, and that they’re getting extra sick hours. Lots of businesses are doing this who don’t employ delivery services. But, you know, Target is recognizing that they’re putting their in-store workers at a higher risk. Although even two dollars, because if you catch COVID and you take it home to your family, you’ll be really glad that you made a hundred and forty extra dollars. It’s still insulting, and it’s these types of positions, whether they’re you know cashiers or stockers or gig workers, are not the kind of positions that have been gotten much respect years. These are not careers. They’re meant for teenagers. And now finally these these workers are being told how important they are, and nothing is being done to help keep us safe in the line of fire. It’s just really insulting. And to have a pay cut on top of that. And they say that this version 2, they say it’s a trial, but they’ve been rolling it out everywhere. And we also have been told that that it is go nationwide.
KZ: And since you’re independent contractors, it’s very hard to organize. You say you have a private Facebook group. That’s one place I guess you can organize, but you don’t have collective bargaining or a union, or any way to really have one person speak for the group. So it’s a challenging organizing channel for you, for you all to fight back against these policies.
RP: Totally, and the fact that they have the official Shipt Facebook page, and they set up Facebook pages and different communities that are always monitored. There’s always somebody be in there keeping an eye on things and deleting comments and just interfering with the conversations that are happening. And people are getting fired for saying something that the company doesn’t like. They say they’re drinking the Kool-Aid, which has a whole lot of really negative and insensitive connotations. Don’t use that. Okay, that’s what they call it. It’s a very cult-like environment until you’re able to get out of it.
MF: Right but, you know in this economy, there’s so many people that have had to take on these types of jobs. One of the things that I was reading is that because of the pandemic and increased orders, Shipt has hired a lot of new workers. Can you talk about what’s going on with that, and how that’s been problematic for you?
RP: The new shoppers… many maybe didn’t even grocery shop for their own families. They’re certainly not professional shoppers. They don’t have enough support to help them with the regular, everyday operating problems that come up, let alone those that were experiencing right now, and the extra additional glitches with the app. Last I knew the app was down right now. It’s back up an hour ago. The app goes down. These kinds of problems that veteran shoppers have encountered before and may still need some guidance on, new shoppers are now having to deal with us. And so the customers experience has got to be less positive, and nobody can get through to Shipt to deal with their issues. I had a prescription delivery. Just pick it up drop it off. The customer wasn’t home. I called. I texted. I couldn’t get through. So I returned it to CVS, which is where I picked it up. They tell you now to send them a text if you have to cancel an order. So I sent them a text and I got an automated response that it would be at least three hours before I heard back. This was on a Friday. That order sat on my dashboard until Monday. During that time that customer couldn’t reorder his prescription. CVS wouldn’t. I went back the next day to try to deliver it for the customer because I recognized it was prescription medicine. He probably really needed it. I wasn’t able to pick it up because it hadn’t been canceled on Shipt’s end, and until it was I couldn’t order it.
MF: That does seem really problematic. So let’s talk a little bit about kind of the specific demands that Shipt Shoppers are asking for. So one thing is you’re asking for hazard pay. Can you talk about that and also talk about specifically what you want in terms of how to be protected, and what Shipt should be doing if a shopper gets sick.
RP: So yeah, we’re talking about hazard pay. I don’t know how to come to an agreeable amount. I’ve heard five dollars per order throw them out. I don’t know. I like to think my life is worth more than that. It certainly is to the people who love me. So yeah, we’re asking for some sort of recognition that we’re working in hazardous environments, and that we’re protecting other people from having to do the same. For protective equipment, I think what’s most important is masks and sanitizing spray. Something to clean our hands frequently. For each shop that I’m doing I probably use hand sanitizer five times, for each shop. And that’s my hand sanitizer. My own personal sanitizer gets used literally at least five times per order. Earlier this week I thought that if I I don’t find more hand sanitizer I’m going to have to stop working, because I refuse to work without it and I’m supplying my own. I found more but I was maybe a week away from needing to stop if I didn’t get any. So hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, something to wipe down the inside of our cars, our hands, our trunks=, our doors. Something like that would be incredibly helpful. Masks to cover her face and to make sure that we’re not breathing all over these customers food. And so that we’re also safer in the grocery store and keeping a grocery store safer for other people. A lot of people would like gloves. Personally I think they kind of give us false sense of security, and that washing our hands more is probably the safest and most effective way to keep them clean. But if I could get some hand sanitizer and some face masks that would be a win in my book.
KZ: They’re such reasonable requests. I mean what’s so interesting about this COVID-19 virus is it is really highlighting some of the fault lines, dramatic mistakes in our economy. I mean, you’re an essential person during this pandemic, and you’re not being treated well. I think we not only have to try to work right now to be supportive, to try to help people like you get what you were asking for, which is so reasonable, but we have to be thinking in the long run. How do we change these policies so that people who are essential workers… Now we know who the essential workers are…
MF: And they are to the wall streeters.
KZ: It’s not the wall streeters. That’s right. It’s not the CEOs. It’s the people who actually do the work. We have to work toward a society that pays people fairly, provides sick leave and healthcare. Its unveiling so many mistakes that we’re making our economy.
RP: Yeah. I think the gig economy grew so quickly and got so big and involved so many independent contractors that the laws didn’t really have a chance to keep up with it, and to see what was going on. I think the way they were classified so that they can skirt all kinds of benefits and taxes that they would otherwise have to be paying us, or for us, and that it really it leads to people being vulnerable. If I get sick I wouldn’t have health care. I’m not sure how I would be able to get the treatment that I would need without insurance because my employer doesn’t provide that to me. So a lot of people are in a really difficult situation where they have to work, but if something happens God forbid that they’re really going to be screwed.
MF: Yeah, I just saw a poll today that was done by a human resources organization. And they said that 72% of service workers are in such a financially precarious position that they can’t make it through even a few weeks of a shutdown.
KZ: I think your point is really well taken about the gig economy developing so quickly in the laws not keeping up with it. And you know, the reality of course is that is the way the employers and the investors want it to be. They want gig workers who have no collective bargaining potential, who don’t get healthcare, who don’t get sick leave, who don’t get paid. You can just hire someone else and treat them as disposable people. And the treatment of people like you during this crisis shows the incredible lack of respect they have for people who are doing such important work.
doing such important work. It’s considered unskilled. Anyone could do it. But the truth is there’s a lot of skill that goes into all of these different gigs. There’s time management. There’s a lot of skill involved. People just don’t give credit. And there’s talk of the Democrats in New York signing some bill giving $25,000 to essential workers. Even still gig workers would not qualify for any of that. The money is distributed to employers to distribute to employees and we’re not employees.
KZ: And you know they knew that when they put that law in place. When Democrats say that they know they’re excluding workers because they’re doing it for their donors.
RP: Absolutely. It’s a shame and I certainly don’t think that the Democrats are holding anyone best interests in heart right now. It’s all PR. What Shipt does and politicians do… it’s all PR. But we would just really like to have, what we need to be safe and to make what we’re doing worth it, because for me it’s not worth it to drive 20 minutes to the store and expose myself for 45 minutes to bring you $30 worth of groceries this week. And the next week you’re going to send me to the store again for 30 more dollars worth of groceries. And it’s just I can’t do that for seven dollars. I can’t do that for 20 dollars. I haven’t been working because I’m uncomfortable with myself in those situations. I’m a single mother and I don’t have siblings. I don’t have parents. There’s nobody else to take care of my girls but me. I can’t put myself in that situation no matter how much money they throw at me. But there are a lot of other workers who are, and those workers need the protection, and those workers need to feel valued and have their lives respected. And right now it doesn’t feel like they are. And I think shipped and Target could do a much better job.
MF: So you’re moderating the Facebook group. So you’re hearing from a lot of Shipt Shoppers. Are shoppers starting to feel empowered? Are they starting to really get a will to fight back against this? How how are people feeling about this right now?
RP: So it was really interesting that initially there was a lot of fear in even bringing it up the Facebook group, that the people who did it might be sued, or or at the very least they wouldn’t be working for Shipt anymore. And to the best of my knowledge that hasn’t happened to any of the people who are involved. Certainly we’ve had people try to infiltrate the group, people who were part of headquarters or who had ties to Shipt, even though that was expressly not wanted. But it went from300 people. And then overnight we’re about to break a thousand. So there certainly are a lot of Shipt shoppers who were looking for an open platform, and all of those ones who were silenced on the official platform, their Facebook group, found a home with us. And so while there’s still quite a bit of moderating going on and figuring out who’s for the cause and who’s still part of the cult, I think we made a lot of progress in the last month since the group began.
MF: So how can our listeners support Shipt Shoppers right now? What are some things that they can do?
RP: They can not use Shipt. There’s another platform called dumpling which allows shoppers to actually be independent contractors, and set their own prices and recruit their own clients. And if people want to support gig workers right now, that would be a great way to do it. You can go to shop.dumpling.us, and put in your zip code and it will tell you if there are any dumpling shoppers in your area. The platform is simply a platform- paid a fee for providing a platform. There’s no up-charge. There’s a lot of reasons to use dumpling over Shipt. So you could stop using the service. That would be great. Speak out and share what you see… the talk about what big workers are dealing with right now. Share them on Facebook and on Instagram and on Twitter and in your mom group. Let people know that we’re not being treated fairly and that we have really reasonable demands. I think those are the two things that come most to mind for me. If you’re still going to order, tip well. Like don’t tip what you would normally tip. Tip well. Understand that things are out of stock and be understanding and flexible about the work that’s being done in the services being provided and consider being taken.
KZ: How do people join your private Facebook group?
RP: Well, they have to be a Shipt shopper. So there’s that requirement, but there’s some questions that you have to answer and some proof that we have to require to try keep it in a safe space, that there are any Shipt shoppers who are looking for this kind of support and we’ll get the involved. That’s where you would go to Shipt list.
KZ: Great. Well, you know, the concerns you’re raising are really speaking for many many thousands of people. So you’re giving a voice to the concerns that a whole range of gig workers have, not just Shipt shoppers. So it’s a very important that your voice is out there. So we really appreciate that you’re doing the work you’re doing. A lot of essential workers now are starting to stand up and so you’re part of a important developing movement and I hope that you realize the importance of the work you’re doing.
RP: Well, thank you very much. And again, I really appreciate you giving me some time to talk about these issues and to share them with the public so that people have an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes with these services and companies that are really providing a really necessary service right now but are not compensating the the actual workers in the way that they should be or even taking care and concern for their health and well-being.
MF: Yeah, it’s really a crime what they’re doing, the way there that Shipt shoppers another gig workers are being treated. Well Robin, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today. And you know, we’ll keep sharing out what we can with this and we encourage our listeners to do the same and spread the word and I think that this is a time when we need to be all demanding what we need. We shouldn’t be asking for crumbs anymore. We need to be asking for what we actually need.
RP: Well, thank you for having me.