Los Angeles County leaders on Tuesday passed new rules aimed at protecting the health of food delivery workers, who are playing a key role in getting meals and groceries to housebound residents.
Companies such as Instacart, Doordash and Shipt are targeted by an ordinance authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and passed by the board on Tuesday.
The ordinance requires food delivery platforms to provide access to face coverings and gloves or hand sanitizer to workers, either by supplying workers directly or by making sufficient funds available to workers to purchase this personal protective equipment.
Companies are also required to provide a “no contact” option, so that workers can make deliveries without being physically close to customers. Grocery and pharmacy stores will be required to allow delivery workers to use their restrooms to wash their hands.
Grocery delivery services are in high demand as people avoid visiting stores for fear of contracting or spreading the coronavirus. Many most vulnerable to the coronavirus, including those 60 years and older or those with underlying health conditions, have begun to rely heavily on food delivery workers to get their groceries, toiletries and other essential household goods.
Independent contractors for start-up Instacart and Target-owned grocery delivery app Shipt in recent weeks have protested what they see as a lack of safety protections and pay commensurate with the risk they are taking by operating during the pandemic.
“These businesses, along with retail grocery stores and retail drugstores, must provide their workers with the necessary supplies, tools, equipment and safety practices to protect the workers and the public they are serving,” the ordinance reads.
Kelly Caruso, Shipt’s chief executive, said in a blog post last week that the company will provide workers with gloves and masks “through pickup at their local Target store in the coming weeks.” But some Shipt workers said shortly afterward that they weren’t notified and worked to procure protective equipment through their own means.
Since March 30, a group of Instacart workers across the country have been on strike, calling on the company to provide hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and hazard pay, as well as additional protections for workers with preexisting health conditions who might be more vulnerable to illness. The protest hasn’t hurt the company’s business, with Instacart seeing record orders in the last few weeks, the company has said.
In the first few days of the strike, the company agreed to provide sanitizer, masks and gloves free of charge. Previously the company did not provide any safety equipment.
“Delivery platforms have gone largely unregulated. This ordinance does not create a comprehensive regulatory framework, but it seeks to address urgent issues. We want workers in that sector to feel acknowledged, safe and supported,” Ridley-Thomas said.
The ordinance expands health and safety standards for retail workers employed by grocery stores and pharmacies, mandating the erection of plexiglass barriers at registers where customers and employees might come into close contact and the cleaning of baskets and shopping carts between use.
Grocery and pharmacy stores that don’t comply run the risk of violating and losing their public health permits, Ridley-Thomas said; businesses that operate without a permit could be charged with a misdemeanor. For food delivery platforms, which aren’t subject to the same regulations, the county department of public health will launch investigations into any compliance issues brought to its attention, Ridley-Thomas said.
Ridley-Thomas’ order follows one issued last week by Los Angeles county that requires businesses still operating to limit the number of people that can enter a facility at one time.
The county ordered essential businesses to enact social distancing protocols, so people can easily maintain a six-foot physical distance from one another at all times. The county also required businesses to post in their facilities protocol guidelines — a to-do list that includes disinfecting surfaces, offering hand sanitizer to employees and keeping bathrooms open — and to give a copy of the measures to employees.
The order also requires essential businesses in the county to provide cloth face coverings to employees and contracted workers whose duties require close contact with other workers and/or the public, according to the order.
Both Ridley-Thomas’ order and the new county order go into effect Wednesday.
Unions representing grocery workers praised the new county guidelines. UFCW Local 770 represents more than 20,000 grocery workers in Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
“UFCW members serve as frontline workers in grocery and drug stores throughout Los Angeles County. They are putting their health and safety on the line during this pandemic,” said John Grant, president of the union branch. “The requirements to provide PPE and regular hand washing, among other measures, will promote public safety and health throughout Los Angeles County and flatten the curve of the pandemic.”
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, which represents about 400 businesses in Southern California, said a major problem for his members is obtaining sanitizer, gloves and masks. A hospital has even called him, seeking hand sanitizer, Waldman said.
“Everyone wants protections, and no one wants to put their employees at risk, but where do we get it? It’s impossible to find,” Waldman said.