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Nolan writes: "Both white collar and blue collar workers for Amazon have complained of a variety of inhuman working conditions, even they have it better than the absolute lowest rung on the Amazon employment chart: 'Flex' drivers, who lack job security, benefits, and decent pay - and who say they are desperate for change."

Contractors working for the Amazon Flex program load packages into vehicles to deliver to customers in San Francisco. (photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)
Contractors working for the Amazon Flex program load packages into vehicles to deliver to customers in San Francisco. (photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)


'We Are Treated Like Animals,' Say Amazon Flex Drivers

By Hamilton Nolan, Splinter

20 April 19

 

oth white collar and blue collar workers for Amazon have complained of a variety of inhuman working conditions, even they have it better than the absolute lowest rung on the Amazon employment chart: “Flex” drivers, who lack job security, benefits, and decent pay—and who say they are desperate for change.

Amazon Flex is, in essence, the company’s in-house Uber-esque package delivery program. You can claim delivery shifts (called “blocks”) via an app, then drive your own car to an Amazon warehouse, pick up packages, and deliver them and be paid directly. Of course, this means that Flex drivers are not Amazon employees, earn no benefits, pay for their own car maintenance and gas, and generally have no rights or influence over their own working conditions. The Flex program has been the subject of a number of exposes by journalists describing the plight of drivers, who often find that their take-home pay plummets to single-digit dollars per hour once they have factored in all of their expenses. And although Amazon has made much of the fact that the company raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour last year, Flex drivers were not included in those raises. In February, the LA Times reported that Amazon was systematically stealing Flex drivers’ tips.

After we ran a letter from an Amazon worker earlier this week describing the harsh reality of working for the company, we received dozens more emails from other Amazon workers in a variety of different jobs wanting to share their own stories. Today, we bring you the experiences of two Flex drivers. First, a man based in the New Orleans area:

Just wanted to write in with a little bit of my experience being an amazon flex driver and would be happy to respond to any questions you have about it since your recent article didn’t address this side of the amazon workforce. As you may know most amazon packages are delivered by either DSP’s (delivery service providers) or Flex drivers. DSPs drive the sprinter vans with amazon logos which are owned by subcontractors who hire our the drivers. All of these people are either [independent contractors] or work for one of these subcontractors rather than amazon directly.

I work as a flex driver so I “contract” directly with amazon. We have also not had any changes in pay from the recent increases and have no benefits, job security, or guaranteed hours whatsoever. In order to get a “block” to work on (usually 3 hours, they cut down on the number of hours offered per block which used to be 4) drivers may spend all day tapping on the flex app. The app requires you to manually refresh it constantly in order to get any work, often for hours at a time. If you’ve read or watched anything about flex I’m sure you’ve seen people doing this. Once work pops up you have seconds to accept it or the offer will be gone. People also automate this process through various means and there is a whole shadow economy of tapper apps, hacks, and robots that are being sold to people for hundreds of dollars to help get blocks.

Once you get a block you head to the warehouse, you have to arrive early (without being paid of course) because you need to be checked in by the warehouse workers within 5 minutes of your block start time and you have no control over how fast you can get through this process. At least in my area (new orleans) the warehouse is totally exposed to the elements with no a/c or rain cover, it is also filled with potholes that could potentially damage your vehicle. You have to driver your personal vehicle and are often required to park illegally constantly risking tickets or being towed or accidents which of course you must handle out of pocket. We also are not given anything identifying us as working for amazon and people often think we are stealing packages or snooping around properties which puts us at risk as well. They do not tell customers that packages are being delivered in this manner so no one really knows what is going on and I am worried about having the cops called on me or having someone threaten me.

As far as our pay we get a base rate of 18/hour which can be boosted up to around 22ish depending on factors that are not clear to me. This of course does not account for expenses. This Saturday for example I had a block that paid me out $66 for a 3 hour block. While that seems like it is 22/hour, I drove about 45 miles and using the standard mileage deduction that would imply my expenses are about $25.78 bringing my earnings down to 40.22 or $13.4/hour. If my earnings had not been boosted $4/hour due to demand or whatever other factor, I would have made $9.4/hour which is probably closer to my average pay. I will also mention that many drivers do not carry appropriate insurance riders to do this type of work with their vehicles and that is another huge risk that is taken on by many flex drivers. Driving is constantly in the top 10 most dangerous occupations and I don’t think we are appropriately compensated for the risks we are taking.

The delivery ranges are also huge, I could be going anywhere from Lulling to Violet in Louisiana which is like 40 miles and an hour drive. I work in the new orleans area which is fairly densely populated, could be worse for people in more rural areas. I would also mention that when working downtown, delivery people for other companies have a rapport which building managers and security and are doing routes they know well so are able to provide better service whereas we are constantly dodging tickets and will cancel deliveries if we are unable to find parking or can’t access a building. This is probably a big issue in other downtown areas as well.

Earlier this week I had an issue getting a parking ticket for being in a loading zone. This was frustrating as I was indeed loading into the building the zone was for to deliver Amazon packages. I asked Amazon if they could give me proof that I was delivering to that building to help fight the ticket and they told me that it is against their policy to verify or confirm income or work for any contractors. I found that infuriating. Your route assignment is completely deleted from your records after you finish it so unless you keep and maintain screenshots constantly you have no record of the work you actually did which makes it difficult to contest earnings issues or deal with any accidents or tickets as this case illustrates.

I have not seen organizing efforts. I’m not familiar with any way we could really organize traditionally as independent contractors. These contracts always include a clause saying that we can negotiate rates but in practice that is not a real option. Amazon also encourages competition between drivers by making blocks so hard to get which would encourage scabbing if we were to try to strike. It would take a big effort to organize something like that as well since drivers don’t really see or know each other and I doubt amazon would allow us to leave pamphlets at the warehouse loading dock which is about the only place we congregate.

Another Flex driver based in the Los Angeles area echoes many of the same complaints, and says that the job is growing even harder:

First of all a year ago it was very easy to do blocks. Everything very close. Cities were so close to warehouse. About 10 to 15 miles drive. Now we drive for almost 30 miles getting paid the same and with way more packages and far stops. So most of the time we work 3 hrs or 3.5 or 4 hrs but we work every second and every hour until it expires and there goes our gas. For a person to do a 3 hrs block we get paid 54.00 but then you have to pump 15 or 20.00 dollars of gas. So when you make the math how much can we make?

When is raining very hard same pay when we risk our lives driving in the bad conditions. I think amazon should start paying for gas and something else like fixing our cars like maintenance. Everybody who’s been working for more than a year or more doesn’t see amazon as something where you can make a little decent money. People are fed up putting too many miles on their car. Imagine you drive and deliver in one block close to close to 80 miles at 54.00 or 63.00 dollars minus 20.00 of gas. That’s not working happy. That’s driving disappointed. Please if you can help us make a difference for all the drivers. Everybody is scared of asking for changes because they can get deactivated or fired easily. We all want big changes now... It’s sad we are treated like animals or robots.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s net worth is approximately $153 billion.

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