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A Single Mom on Strike From Instacart Tries to Make Ends Meet

Ashley’s son helping her at work, before the pandemic.
Ashley’s son helping her at work, before the pandemic.
Photo: Ashley
Imbalancing ActImbalancing ActMothering during the covid-19 pandemic

Ashley, 31, is a single mom living with her 7-year-old son in Puyallup, Washington, where she works in the gig economy.

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I do gig work, essentially anything that is not a normal nine-to-five, anything from childcare to shopping for people’s food to pet sitting. My primary work is grocery delivery. I used to be able to work all through the school day and then pick up a little more work with my son in tow at night. That’s how I ended up in gig work, because of the flexibility. I could work around the school’s schedule, I could pick him up or chaperone a field trip, and then if I needed to work more, I could just take him with me.

I don’t take him with me anymore, though, because I don’t feel safe bringing a germ vector through the grocery store right now. Even older kids that can be taught to wash their hands, they are still going to be picking their nose behind you, they touch more things, they are less conscious of touching their face. So, now that my son’s school is closed and I can’t take him with me to work, I’m only working when my son is at his dad’s house on the weekends.

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I used to do some work through Instacart, but I’m on strike right now, because they won’t give us personal protective equipment or hazard pay—or even adequate pay, to be honest. But I also have my own business that goes through a different app, where I set my hours and prices and work with my own individual customers.

My business is actually booming right now and my income per order is higher, but I’m really only working two days a week, so the income coming in is obviously less. Now, I will try to do four or five days of work in two days. I was definitely financially stressed out before all of this, certainly paycheck to paycheck, if I even made it that far. I love my child, but if he’s here, I can’t make money, and we need money to survive. The bills keep coming. The electric company says, “Oh, we won’t shut you off right now,” but the bill is still there and has to be paid. You have to make sure that you have internet to homeschool. Things that I might normally let lapse just really aren’t an option right now.

At the start of the pandemic, people went out and bought food and toilet paper. Well, for those of us who don’t have savings, we couldn’t really do that. By the time we got to the store, there was only more expensive stuff or less healthy stuff. When I would normally pay $4 for toilet paper, the only one left was $20.

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My work is more challenging, too. Every shop that would normally take me half an hour now takes over an hour. Trying to distance from people means a lot of waiting: you’re waiting to get into the store, you’re waiting at the end of the aisle for people to leave the aisle, the checkout lines are more time consuming, and the stores are out of so many things, so there’s a lot more texting back and forth with customers about replacements.

They say on the news, “don’t go in the grocery store,” “avoid the grocery store,” but my job puts me there for six, seven hours. I have a lot of anxiety about it. I disinfect my car, my purse, my phone—anything that’s going to come in contact with me throughout the day that’s going to potentially come in contact with the customer’s groceries. I bring disinfectant wipes into the store with me, just in case they don’t have them. I wipe down the whole shopping cart. I wash my hands when I get in the store and in-between departments. Sometimes, in certain stores, the bathrooms are closed, so it’s just hand sanitizer, which is frustrating. When I get to my car, I wipe-down my car.

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Usually, I will come home and disinfect everything. I’ll go take a shower, change my clothes, and even disinfect my shoes and doorknob and everything. It’s a much more exhausting job than it was a few months ago, even doing it less often. I also do organizing work around the Instacart strike, and that’s become at least a part-time job. Of course, organizing is an unpaid job. And you can’t do it with a child talking to you, so I tend to do it in the middle of the night, which is terrible if you’re talking about taking care of yourself. I feel like I’ve been going 100 miles per hour for a month and a half now.

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Right now, I don’t get to recharge. Generally, when my son is with his dad, I would have a lot of social time. Now, there is no one that could watch him. Everyone in my life is older or immuno-compromised or somehow at risk. Outside of him going to his dad’s house, I can’t call someone and be like, “Please rescue me for just one hour.” I’ve tried to text and video chat with friends, but a lot of them are still working as well, so we’re kind of too burnt out to be able to maintain what we normally would. At this point, we’ve been living like this for a month. I’m an extrovert, so it is very challenging. You have hard parenting days and there are things that recharge you so that you can be a better parent and a lot of those things are inaccessible right now.

I also enjoy hiking, well, a bunch of our parks are closed. Our little apartment complex is pretty far off the road, but outside of that couple blocks, we don’t really have a walk-able neighborhood. We don’t have sidewalks. Where we walk to is just a huge main road. We do a lot of walking to the mailbox. I will try once a week to drive to a park that is still open and pick a time that is less busy. Luckily, at his dad’s house, my son does have a yard. Sometimes we try to do yoga from YouTube, but kids just don’t want to do that in a tiny apartment. I’m trying to find other physical ways to entertain him, whether it’s building Legos or anything that’s just not sitting on a tablet or watching TV.

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I love my child, don’t get me wrong, but 7-year-olds really have a way of sucking out whatever is working in your brain. They ask a lot of questions, they talk repeatedly, they sing the same song, but only four words of it, for an hour at a time. I have ADHD, so I’m very unproductive at home right now. Suddenly, I’m not just providing childcare but also acting as a first grade teacher. The curriculum is confusing and it’s difficult getting them to focus and just trying to manage in a time when they can’t go see other people. I’m grateful at this point when he goes to his dad’s house. The last time I did this amount of parenting would have been when he was a toddler.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

I live in the Bay Area and know several people that work at Instacart and similar gig economy/ tech company HQs. These people make INSANE salaries. Middle management well over 6 figures. Their holiday parties are LUXURIOUS. Their stock offerings are NUTS.

We all know there’s a dark side to tech, but the fact that they can’t even provide hazard pay for their front line gig workers who are not exercising their right to shelter in place while their HQ employees work safely from home is classist and gross.