Part 2 of a series on Amazon’s delivery drivers. Part 1, âBuilding Its Own Delivery Network, Amazon Puts the Squeeze On Drivers,â is here.
The Amazonification of logistics has created a new group of highly exploited workers: delivery drivers. Amazon itself increasingly relies on an expanding network of subcontracted drivers and independent contractors to deliver packages to customersâ doors.
The working conditions facing Amazonâs last-mile drivers are defined by a frantic pace, low wages, and relentless pressure to meet tight delivery deadlines. Workers of color and immigrants are overrepresented, as they are in all the lowest-paying segments of last-mile logistics.
When an Amazon Prime member orders an item, the first step in the delivery process begins at an Amazon Fulfillment Center, where the item is picked by a worker and put into a box, and an address label is created.
From there, the package is typically sent to an Amazon Sortation Center, where it is sorted. Then itâs sent either to the post office or, increasingly, to an Amazon Delivery Center, where Amazonâs subcontracted Delivery Service Provider (DSP) drivers pick up their routes.
Each Amazon Delivery Center typically contracts with 12â20 DSPs. Most of the drivers I spoke with said they usually have the same daily route. As the workday starts at the delivery center, hundreds of drivers pick up their âracksâ: pallets of Prime packages. Any package that arrives at a delivery center must be delivered that day.
âWATCHING ME DRIVEâ
To get a sense of what work is like for these subcontracted drivers, I accompanied 30-year-old Miguel on some of his shifts throughout the Los Angeles region. Miguel is an undocumented immigrant; he was born in Mexico and migrated to the U.S. as a baby in the early 1990s. He grew up in L.A. and worked in fast food for 10 years before becoming a delivery driver.
Miguel typically works four 10-hour shifts each week, with an occasional opportunity for an extra day of overtime. He earns $15.50 per hour and receives no health benefits. While Amazon is not technically his employer, Miguel exclusively delivers Amazon Prime packages.
Miguelâs shift starts at 7:30 a.m., when he picks up his âbag.â A driverâs bag contains the keys to the delivery van and an Amazon âRabbitâ delivery device.
The Rabbit is an Android smartphone, which tracks the driverâs movements in real time and dictates each step of the delivery route. It provides information on each delivery, access codes to enter apartment buildings, and notes on where to leave packages.
The Rabbit also gives the driver information about the Prime customer (name, address, phone number) and the size of each package. As soon as a package is delivered, the driver must take a picture to prove it.
âThe Rabbit stresses me out,â Miguel said. âIâm constantly staring at it and thinking someone at Amazon is constantly watching me drive.â
Once Miguel finds his van in the parking lot, he proceeds to the Amazon Delivery Center and waits for his rack. Thereâs a long line of other DSP drivers also waiting. Each rack has between 225 and 350 packages.
On one particular day I joined him, Miguelâs rack contained 227 packages, amounting to 161 stops. A driver typically puts all the small envelopes and packages up front in the cab and leaves the large boxes in the rear of the van. Since I was riding in the front seat, I had to hold dozens of small packages on my lap.
If drivers finish their shifts early, the DSP may assign them as ârescue driversâ to assist others who have fallen behind on their delivery routes.
âOne thing that can be stressful is that my boss always knows exactly where I am because of the Rabbit,â Miguel told me. âSo if I am behind on my route they tell me about it… They call me on the radio and tell me to hurry up.
âOn most days, I donât even have time to take a full lunch break, so I just go to a drive-through. And if Iâm lucky Iâll just eat in the van as I am working… You are constantly rushing. You canât find parking, or the Rabbit gets screwed up…
âIâve also been accused of stealing packages, especially in rich white neighborhoods. They see a Hispanic driving around and think I am a package thief. My [company] will soon be giving us Amazon-branded uniforms and blue Amazon vans, which Iâm happy about because that will help people realize that I am not a porch pirate…
âAlso, I wish we got paid more. I think we deserve it. I work really hard and I donât have health benefits, so if I get sick or hurt, I have to pay out of pocket.â
Miguel and many other drivers I interviewed emphasized that it is Amazon, not the DSPs, that needs to pay better wages.
Drivers described a physically demanding work environment. They feel pressured to drive at dangerous speeds, blow stop signs, and skip breaks and meals to meet the tight deadlines. Traffic and congestion stress them out. They also reported safety violations, wage theft, intimidation, favoritism, and a lack of overtime pay.
âI lost over 30 pounds since I started this job,â said Rogelio, a 26-year-old Latino driver. âThis job takes a lot of running… I twisted my ankle stepping off a curb a couple months ago… it really slowed me down. I had to keep working though, but it was really swollen.â
Rogelio told me that he only stops to use the bathroom once per shift, usually at the same public toilet near a park along his route. âDuring Prime week,â Rogelio said, âI was way behind on my route. All I ate that day was a granola bar and an appleâfor almost 11 hours! I hate Prime Day.â
âONE PACKAGE COST ME $150â
When a DSP driver fails to deliver a package, or even when a package is stolen from the doorstep of a customerâs home, Amazon contacts the DSP with what drivers call a âconcession.â
Concessions occur when Amazon Prime members submit a complaint to Amazon over a missed delivery. When a concession is issued, the individual driver is reprimanded by a superior.
Alex is a 37-year-old Latino driver who has been working for his DSP for 10 months. He told me, âAmazon put a concession on me a few months after I started. My boss called me in, and he asked why I didnât take a picture of the package that disappeared. I told him that I did, but for some reason it didnât get logged by the Rabbit. I was written up [by my boss] and he took away one of my shifts that week as punishment. That one package cost me 150 bucks.
âFor the next few weeks, my boss tightened the screws on me… He was always on me, calling and texting me to hurry up… When an item gets stolen, they blame the drivers.â
âHereâs the thing,â Justin, a Filipino driver, told me. âIâm 42 years old. I have four kids and I make $15 an hour. I get about $1,250 every two weeks. Thatâs not enough to make it out here in LA. If I didnât have a family, Iâd leave this area.
âI basically do the same work as a UPS driver, but those guys get paid double what I earn, at least. We donât have representation with any union. So thatâs why I take as much overtime as possible, my boss knows Iâll take any extra workâbut itâs a really tiring job at times.â
This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on February 9, 2021. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jake Alimahomed-Wilson is a sociology professor at Cal State-Long Beach. He is the co-editor, with Ellen Reese, ofÂ The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global EconomyÂ (Pluto Press, 2020). This piece is an edited excerpt from the book.Â