Target aisle- pasta

A near-empty pasta sauce aisle is a now familiar site for Shipt shopper Amy Wamhoff as panicked grocery shoppers rush to stock up on food and household items.

Scott County residents working in the gig economy — the system of temporary contract, freelance and largely app-based jobs — say they're adjusting to higher demand, competition and tensions during their delivery runs during the coronavirus response. 

Amy Wamhoff started working for Shipt in March 2018, when the company first began hiring drivers in the Scott County area to make deliveries from grocery stores like Hy-Vee and Target. After 15 years working in medical sales, Wamhoff said she was excited to have a job where she could control her own hours and be close to home. 

Now Wamhoff and other Shipt workers are saying that the app they generally enjoy has taken on a new level of stress as items fly off the shelves. 

"Target ran out of everything very quickly," Wamhoff said. "I was going down the aisles at Target saying people, do not panic, it's not going anywhere, this is OK. You would have thought there was an atomic bomb and nobody could go out for days and years."  

Jason Buss who recently started driving for DoorDash said on a personal run to Sam's Club he saw one woman and her family "annihilate" a new delivery of toilet paper, fill four shopping carts and run. 

"They were trying to bring out pallets, and (customers) were just eating them up in seconds," Buss said. "I thought what in the heck is going on here."

The added demand has led gig companies to increase their call for drivers and workers, just as coronavirus is making waves in the American economy. In Minnesota alone, hundreds of thousands of people have applied for unemployment since March 16. 

Amanda Hennen normally works full time as a pharmacy technician at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and a nanny for a local family. School closures sent one of the parents home and meant the family no longer needed a nanny. A canceled vacation gave Hennen four days to try out the DoorDash app.

"I'm not a homebody," Hennen said. "I'm a worker."

The new hires are attempting to bring some relief to an overwhelmed system, though long-time drivers said it's to limited avail.

Wamhoff said in the last few weeks there's consistently 1,000 orders from around the metro pending in the Shipt shopper systems. She's limited herself to just Savage, where there's consistently 20 to 30 orders, but said she's still having difficulty keeping up. 

"I'm actually doing less because the orders are taking so long," Wamhoff said. "I used to be able to do a $220 shop in 20 minutes ... now a $220 shop is taking an hour and a half."

For some shoppers the pressure to meet orders and risk of getting sick is no longer matching the reward. Jennifer, a Shipt shopper based in the Prior Lake area, said though she's worked with the company since June 2018 she stopped going out on deliveries earlier this week out of health concerns. 

Jennifer asked to only use her first name over fear that Shipt would retaliate against her for sharing her experiences with the company. 

"I tried to shop for as many people as possible to keep as many people out of the store," Jennifer said. "I'm not trying to be a martyr about it, but that was my thing in the last couple weeks."

But after seeing masses of people in the grocery stores day after day and enduring curses from people who thought she was hoarding during her Shipt runs, she decided to stay home.

"Honestly something needs to be done, because even though we're in state where we should stay home, nobody is enforcing," she said.

Gig workers across the country are weighing demand for their services against the risk of getting sick. Earlier this week, Instacart workers said they were going on strike until they company adds hazard pay, expands its paid sick leave policy and provides shoppers with hand sanitizer and wipes. 

Shipt told their shoppers on March 26 that they would provide two weeks of financial assistance to any shopper who was diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed under a mandatory individual quarantine order by a public health authority. 

Jennifer said that she's heard of other shoppers trying to claim the assistance pay only to be turned down because they can't get tested. On top of that, the financial assistance is the shopper's average earnings and tips from the previous four weeks before their diagnosis.

Local shoppers are paid a flat rate, tips and a percentage of the order, according to Jennifer. 

Buss said he's had no qualms working with DoorDash during the pandemic and that that he feels like they've done a good job being proactive about both driver and customer safety.

"DoorDash can't cure the coronavirus, but they're doing everything they can," Buss said. "They can only do so much. They're providing everything we need as drivers. We're doing no-contact deliveries."

Buss said for his family, working with DoorDash was "a saving grace" in an economically uncertain time. Buss and his wife were laid off from the MyPillow production facility in Shakopee for two weeks before being called back to work this week. 

"We had some money stashed away to buy this house so we weren't panicking, we were doing okay," Buss said. "But I still need to get some income coming in, and I've never been on unemployment, so I didn't know how that works."

Buss turned to DoorDash after he saw demand for Lyft rides to the airport, his previous go-to for a side job, dry up. Buss said in just a couple hours with DoorDash he made $311.

He said delivering food during the pandemic took on a new importance, not just for his family but for his customers. 

"It was kind of an eerie feeling being responsible for somebody's food," Buss said. "I always had my hand sanitizer and was just so careful."

Wamhoff agreed. 

"People need groceries that don't feel safe going out there," Wamhoff said. "People need this service, and I want to continue to serve them."

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