From Instacart to Hershey, Here’s a Roundup of Worker Strikes Across the Country


Updated April 17, 8:30 a.m. PST

The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on workers across the United States. While job loss is rampant, those still at work also face an uncertain future.

Strikes streak across the country as workers demand more protection. 

COVID-19 Strike Wave interactive map. (Pay Day Report)

Workers across the United States took note.

An incomplete list of COVID-19-related strikes includes: 

Nurses at Providence Saint John’s Health Center (Santa Monica, California)

Associated Press reports:

But at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, [Nurse Mike] Gulick and his colleagues worried that caring for infected patients without first being able to don an N95 respirator mask was risky. The N95 mask filters out 95% of all airborne particles, including ones too tiny to be blocked by regular masks. But hospital administrators said they weren’t necessary and didn’t provide them, he said.

Then, last week, a nurse on Gulick’s ward tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. The next day, doctors doing rounds on their ward asked the nurses why they weren’t wearing N95 masks, Gulick said, and told them they should have better protection.

For Gulick, that was it. He and a handful of nurses told their managers they wouldn’t enter COVID-19 patient rooms without N95 masks.

The hospital suspended him and nine colleagues, according to the National Nurses United, which represents them. Ten nurses are now being paid but are not allowed to return to work pending an investigation from human resources, the union said.

UC Teaching Assistants (Santa Cruz, California)

CalMatters reports:

The graduate student strike calling for a cost of living adjustment started in Santa Cruz but quickly sparked solidarity actions at UC campuses across the state, garnering national attention. It was a wildcat strike, meaning not officially endorsed by the students’ union. Teaching assistants argued they weren’t earning enough to afford California’s pricey rents. The university said they should wait until their union contract expired to negotiate — and sent police armed with riot gear to confront them.

Now, with the coronavirus emptying campuses and rallies impractical due to social distancing, graduate students are figuring out how to take their movement online. 

At the end of March, strikers launched Strike Universitya series of online classes for activists covering subjects like “Graphic Design for Social Justice” and “Rethinking the Benevolent University.”  The teach-ins aim to promote “free and accessible” public education, along with “critical thinking and skills not bound to the imperatives of the market,” the Strike University website reads.

Burgerville (Portland, Oregon)

Eater reports:

[On March 23], every employee at the SE 92nd Avenue Burgerville location went on a one-day strike to protest what they claim are unsafe working conditions related to the coronavirus outbreak.”

Instacart (Nationwide)

Workers at the grocery delivery service Instacart walked off the job last week, demanding greater pay and better access to paid leave and disinfectant.

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McDonald’s (Nationwide)

In These Times reports:

“McDonald’s workers in Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa, Raleigh-Durham and elsewhere have staged job actions this week, in a coordinated push for safer working conditions, paid sick leave and hazard pay.”

Meat Workers (Nationwide)

Meat workers across the country are protesting unsafe working conditions, as many are asked to continue working after COVID-19 cases are confirmed at their plant. 

Shipt (Iowa)

Shipt shoppers are demanding a series of reforms as they continue to prepare and deliver orders for companies like Target. They are focused on securing paid COVID-19 sick leave, hazard pay and safer sanitary equipment to use on the job. 

“Unless you get tested for COVID-19 or you’re half dead, Shipt’s not going to care,” Iowa-based Shipt shopper Angie Kufner told TechCrunch.

Midwest Air Tech (Romeoville, Illinois)

The Times Weekly reports:

A group of 20 workers at a manufacturing plant in Romeoville walked off the job Monday morning and announced they will quarantine themselves after a coworker tested positive for the Coronavirus.

The workers from Midwest Air Tech, 821 W. Bluff Road, a division of Mat Holdings, walked out Monday morning and 69 other workers from Raymunod’s Food Storage in Bedford Park walked off with similar demands, according to Jorge Mujica, with Arise Chicago, a group that fights for worker’s injustices.

According to workers from the plant in Romeoville, plant managers initially had told them that everything was fine even though a worker had contracted the Coronavirus.

Pilgrim’s Pride (Virginia and Illinois)

Pilgrims’ Pride workers protested having to continue to work after a co-worker had a confirmed case of COVID-19. Other poultry workers face similar conditions. 

Heine Brothers’ Coffee (Louisville, Kentucky)

Local news station WHAS reports:

Shift Lead Hannah Jones and others working for Heine Brothers’ say a love for the job, shouldn’t mean employees and their families risking their health.

She started an online petition demanding the company take action: “what we have asked is that Heine Brothers’ give us an option into a voluntary lay off so they can claim unemployment / with the understanding that we would love to come back to work when the stores are ready to fully operate again.”

They’ve also asked for a $3 raise in hazard pay.

Kroger (Memphis, Tennessee)

Commercial Appeal reported in late March:

After learning a co-worker tested positive for coronavirus, Kroger warehouse workers late Thursday stopped fulfilling orders at the grocery giant’s Delta Distribution Center in Memphis, where 400 workers supply 100 stores across the Midsouth.

“We really in a hazardous situation and we scared,” Maurice Wiggins, a forklift driver and father of two told The Commercial Appeal from the warehouse floor. 

“Half the workers have gone home. They scared for their safety. The ones that is here, they so tense they scared to touch the equipment,” Wiggins said, adding that the company would not disclose which shift the employee who tested positive worked.

“They have diabetes, they have asthma. If they catch it, they’ll be high-risk,” Wiggins, 30, said of his co-workers. “Me personally, my Mama, she got diabetes. I can’t go around my Mama, I got to get tested now.”

Wiggins said those who remain on the floor are trying to get some work done. “But the topic of conversation is, ‘What you guys going to do,'” he said of Kroger.

MAX Public Transportation Drivers (Birmingham, Alabama)

Local news WVTM reports:

The Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority responded to protests from MAX transit operators Monday after some drivers refused to work scheduled routes due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns.

Autocar (Jefferson County, Alabama)

WVTM reports:

Workers at Autocar in Jefferson County, Alabama staged a walkout on Monday, claiming the business didn’t communicate with them properly about an employee who tested positive for coronavirus.

Perdue (Kathleen, Georgia)

13 WMAZ reports:

The Perdue plant in Kathleen was a little emptier Monday after about 50 employees walked out.

They said they don’t feel safe working around people who have potentially been exposed to coronavirus and want the plant to do more to protect their employees.

“We’re not getting nothing — no type of compensation, no nothing, not even no cleanliness, no extra pay — no nothing. We’re up here risking our life for chicken,” said employee Kendaliyn Granville.

Detroit Medical Center Sinai Grace (Detroit, Michigan)

Michigan Radio reports:

Nurses working the night shift at a Detroit hospital staged a sit-in late [April 5] to protest what they say are dangerously low staffing levels in the ER.

The nurses say they were asked to leave the hospital, Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace, as a result.

Detroit Bus Drivers (Detroit, Michigan)

Labor Notes reports:

Detroit bus drivers collectively declared [in Mid march] that they weren’t going to work without safety precautions. Bus service was canceled throughout the city because of “the driver shortage,” as city officials put it.

The drivers’ union backed them up and their brief work stoppage, less than 24 hours, won all their demands. Fares will not be collected for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

Chrysler (Warren, Michigan)

Employees at a Fiat Chrysler assembly plant walked off the job to protest lackluster sanitation measures during the COVID-19 crisis. They stated the last straw was the lack of hot water to properly hand wash. 

Brighton Rehab and Wellness Center (Beaver, Pennsylvania)

Nurses at the Brighton Rehab and Wellness Center in Pennsylvania are striking in protest of unsafe working conditions after multiple residents and staff tested positive COVID-19. 

Pittsburgh Sanitation Workers

Payday report reports:

[A] group of several hundred, mostly African-American sanitation workers in Pittsburgh, members of Teamsters Local 249, went out on an illegal, wildcat strikes to protest unsafe working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strike comes as momentum for strikes goes with #GeneralStrike becoming the top trending topic on twitter in the United States with even popstar Britney Spears calling for a General Strike.

Many are wondering if strikes like Pittsburgh’s sanitation workers strike could be the beginning of a growing strike wave as Trump demands that workers risk their lives to return to work quickly. 

Workers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere are resisting calls to work in unsafe conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant

WMAR reports:

Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant workers said they are dealing in unsafe conditions and no measures are being taken to protect them, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Hershey (Palmyra, Pennsylvania)

LebTown reports:

What appeared like dozens of workers walked out of a Palmyra food packing plant on [April 2] because of coronavirus concerns.

“We demand an explanation of why they did not close the factory since there was an infected person and they kept it quiet,” an employee at the facility said.

The worker — who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution — said a company manager confirmed to employees that there were actually three infected people at the site.

Amazon (New York City)

Amazon warehouse workers in New York City received national attention after striking to protest working conditions after many co-workers tested positive for COVID-19. 

General Electric (Lynn, Massachusetts)

The Nation reports:

[In late March], a second-shift worker reported to work at GE Lynn, even though two members of his household had tested positive for Covid-19. The company sent him home. But for workers who’d been complaining to plant management about unsafe working conditions, and who now had to worry about potential exposure, this was the last straw.

Bath Iron Works

WGME reported: “Only 41 percent of Bath Iron Works’ employees clocked in for their shift [one day in late March], a day after the first positive coronavirus case at the shipyard was made public by owner General Dynamics, the head of the largest union said.

Nurses in the Bronx

Last week, about 30 protesters—made up of nurses and their relatives—held signs in front of Jacobi Hospital’s Emergency Room in the Bronx early Saturday, demanding the government provide personal protective equipment immediately.

Some strikes have garnered national attention, like when Amazon employees decided to walk off the job in Staten Island. Chris Smalls’s apparent firing for his involvement in the strike attracted the attention of New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and New York State Attorney General Letitia James—both of whom called for investigations into Smalls’s dismissal. 

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris tweeted their support of striking workers.

While Instacart and Amazon have received the most press, it seems unlikely the wave of strikes will slow. 

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving. During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


Audrey Andrews is a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is an archaeologist, runner and feminist. Audrey graduated from Columbia University.