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He lost 2 jobs to coronavirus. Now he's part of Instacart's 300,000-worker expansion.

Some gig-economy hiring spikes as layoffs begin and delivery explodes to serve COVID-19 lockdowns.

Instacart shopper

Jacob Sadowski, 21, delivers groceries in Petaluma on Monday. He started as an Instacart shopper on Sunday after losing both of his jobs due to the coronavirus.

Photo: Demian Bulwa/Protocol

Jacob Sadowski lost not one but both of his jobs. With millions of people in the San Francisco Bay Area ordered to shelter in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, Sadowski's jobs as a server at the Cheesecake Factory and a sales associate at Verizon vaporized overnight.

Making matters worse, on that same day, March 15, his Toyota Corolla died as he drove to see his uncle, who had offered him a place to stay.

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But Sadowski, a 21-year-old from the East Bay suburb of Danville, had an idea where to look for a quick new source of income: delivering groceries for Instacart as residents panic buy en masse.

"It's surreal," Sadowski said during a delivery run on Monday, which he completed with a Buick that he rented for the new gig. "Everything was looking up for me, and then within a week, everything flip-flopped."

If all goes according to plan, some 300,000 other new Instacart recruits may soon follow Sadowski. On Monday, the company announced plans to more than double the number of contract shoppers and delivery drivers in its ranks to keep up with unprecedented demand as tens of millions of people from New York to San Francisco shelter in place.

"The last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart's history," Instacart founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta said in a statement Monday. "Our teams are working around the clock."

The aggressive expansion effort at Instacart and fellow delivery giants like Amazon — which last week announced its own plan to hire 100,000 new warehouse and delivery workers — illustrates a broader reordering of the economy as city and state officials escalate precautions for COVID-19.

Brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants are reeling after governments ordered consumers to stay home; many must either rapidly scale take-out offerings or lay off staff. But Instacart's carefully worded hiring announcement plays off the language in government orders that only "essential" businesses can continue operating as officials work to slow the spread of the virus.

"Instacart has become an essential service for millions of customers," a press release notes — and few people without other options for getting their own groceries would disagree.

The San Francisco company plans to add the hundreds of thousands new contractors over the next three months. Instacart, which operates in more than 5,500 North American cities, plans to concentrate new roles in California (54,000 additional contractors), New York (27,000), Texas (18,000) and Florida (15,000).

The expansion highlights questions about what the workforce might look like during and after a prolonged COVID-19 outbreak or a resulting long-term recession. Labor groups in California and beyond have questioned why gig economy companies are even allowed to operate during a national state of emergency, given that many contractors lack basic protections guaranteed to full-time employees.

"Gig workers have become frontline responders, often driving people to the hospital or delivering food to those who have been quarantined," labor advocacy group Gig Workers Rising said in a statement after six Bay Area counties announced a shelter-in-place order last week. "Yet these drivers have no sick days, no protective equipment, and no guidance about how this lockdown will affect them."

In an example of how contentious gig economy hiring has become amid battles over potential worker reforms like California's Assembly Bill 5, the Instacart press release skirts words like "hiring" or "employees." Instead, the company says it plans to "bring on an additional 300,000 full-service shoppers."

The vast majority of Instacart's current shoppers and delivery workers, about 175,000 people, are contractors, the company told Protocol on Monday. Another 12,000 are part-time employees.

Those part-timers are now eligible to accrue paid sick leave, the company said. However, in policies spurred by the pandemic that mirror those of companies like Uber, contractors are only eligible for compensation if they can document a COVID-19 diagnosis or an order to quarantine.

Still, Mehta sees his company as a bright spot in an uncertain landscape: "As more people look for immediate, flexible earnings opportunities during this time, we hope that Instacart can be an additional source of income," he said in a statement.

The company also has the backing of big business. Suzanne Clark, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release that Instacart is "stepping in to support the economy by unlocking much-needed earnings opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people who can no longer rely on their previous incomes."

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For Sadowski, who started Sunday, the foray into on-demand shopping has so far worked as a stop-gap after the sudden loss of his other jobs. He's started working 14-hour shifts — and pulled in $80 in tips after two grocery runs — which he hopes will continue long enough for him to buy his own car and reassess.

"I really like it. It's relaxing," he said. "If this is more profitable than what I was doing before, I might stick with it."

Protocol | Workplace

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

An employee walkout, a tumbling stock price and damning new reports of misconduct.

Activision Blizzard is being sued for widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

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Protocol | Workplace

Founder sues the company that acquired her startup

Knoq founder Kendall Hope Tucker is suing the company that acquired her startup for discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Kendall Hope Tucker, founder of Knoq, is suing Ad Practitioners, which acquired her company last year.

Photo: Kendall Hope Tucker

Kendall Hope Tucker felt excited when she sold her startup last December. Tucker, the founder of Knoq, was sad to "give up control of a company [she] had poured five years of [her] heart, soul and energy into building," she told Protocol, but ultimately felt hopeful that selling it to digital media company Ad Practitioners was the best financial outcome for her, her team and her investors. Now, seven months later, Tucker is suing Ad Practitioners alleging discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Knoq found success selling its door-to-door sales and analytics services to companies such as Google Fiber, Inspire Energy, Fluent Home and others. Knoq representatives would walk around neighborhoods, knocking on doors to market its customers' products and services. The pandemic, however, threw a wrench in its business. Prior to the acquisition, Knoq says it raised $6.5 million from Initialized Capital, Haystack.vc, Techstars and others.

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Megan Rose Dickey
Megan Rose Dickey is a senior reporter at Protocol covering labor and diversity in tech. Prior to joining Protocol, she was a senior reporter at TechCrunch and a reporter at Business Insider.
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Protocol | Workplace

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Cisco's EVP and chief people, policy & purpose officer shares how the company is creating a more conscious and hybrid work culture.

Like many large organizations, the leaders at Cisco spent much of the past year working to ensure their employees had an inclusive and flexible workplace while everyone worked from home during the pandemic. In doing so, they brought a new role into the mix. In March 2021 Francine Katsoudas transitioned from EVP and chief people officer to chief people, policy & purpose Officer.

For many, the role of a purpose officer is new. Purpose officers hold their companies accountable to their mission and the people who work for them. In a conversation with Protocol, Katsoudas shared how she is thinking about the expanded role and the future of hybrid work at Cisco.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Protocol | Fintech

The digital dollar is coming. The payments industry is worried.

Jodie Kelley heads the Electronic Transactions Association. The trade group's members, who process $7 trillion a year in payments, want a say in the digital currency.

Jodie Kelley is CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association.

Photo: Electronic Transactions Association

The Electronic Transactions Association launched in 1990 just as new technologies, led by the World Wide Web, began upending the world of commerce and finance.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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