As Amazon rapidly expands its delivery options, a growing number of delivery drivers, most of whom work for third-party courier services out of Amazon-owned depots, have begun to complain about working conditions, unpaid overtime wages and workplace intimidation.
Amazon-Affiliated Drivers File Class Action Over Unpaid Wages
Now, claims of mistreatment and unpaid overtime are being aired in the courtroom. In a new class action lawsuit, delivery drivers have sued the e-commerce giant, accusing it and third-party company TL Transportation, based out of Maryland, of stiffing them on overtime wages.
Over 200 current and former Amazon delivery drivers have already joined the suit, according to Business Insider. In the lawsuit, which is working its way through a Pennsylvania federal court, drivers say they were under paid for overtime hours for years.
Lawsuit: TL Transportation’s Flat Rate Stiffed Workers
The drivers say TL Transportation paid them a flat rate that failed to account for hours worked. Delivery drivers, the suit claims, were paid a flat rate of $160 every day, irrespective of hours worked. TL Transportation says the daily rate includes 8 hours of regular pay, at $14.55, and 2 hours of overtime, at a rate of $21.82, accounting for 10 hours of work. But many delivery drivers say they worked far longer days. TL Transportation’s compensation didn’t keep up, the lawsuit claims.
As just one example, Business Insider notes former driver Shanay Bolden, who is included as one of the class action’s named plaintiffs. Bolden says she worked one seven-day week in 2016, clocking a total of 30 hours in overtime. TL Transportation, however, only paid her for 14 hours of overtime, because its compensation package accounted for just 2 hours of overtime every day.
Judge Rules That Amazon Courier Violated Overtime Laws
That’s not right, according to US District Judge Gerald A. McHugh. Nor is it compliant with federal labor law. In August, Judge McHugh issued a summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs, ruling that TL Transportation had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“Under TLT’s system,” McHugh noted, “an employee receives the same pay each day, even if unforeseen challenges require the employee to work more than ten hours in a day to complete a route. Under this system, TLT has no incentive to limit an employee’s hours. The pay policy allows TLT to schedule routes with little concern for the inconvenience an employee may experience in working an 11 or 12-hour day.”
Workers Describe Horrible Working Conditions
Beyond overtime violations like the ones substantiated by Judge McHugh’s recent ruling, plaintiffs accuse Amazon and TL Transportation of presiding over a work schedule that left little room for driver dignity. “Workers were under such intense pressure to deliver high package volumes,” Business Insider continues, “that they were unable to take breaks to eat meals or use a restroom on the road.”
One plaintiff, former driver Tyhee Hickman, describes in court documents how he resorted to peeing in bottles on the side of the road. “During my route, I was unable to eat lunch, take breaks, and I had to urinate on the side of the road or in a bottle,” Hickman said in the lawsuit.
While Amazon is wary to comment on the specifics of pending litigation, the company says that it “regularly” audits third-party courier companies to ensure that they comply with applicable state and federal labor laws.
How Amazon’s Delivery Service Partners Work
TL Transportation is just one of many third-party companies that Amazon relies on to complete deliveries. According to one attorney in the case, “Amazon is using third-party contractors to push off any responsibilities for being good employers on these small, thinly capitalized companies.” Like other courier companies affiliated with Amazon, TL Transportation handles wage policies, payroll, taxes, insurance, van maintenance and gas on its own.
Amazon, however, exerts significant control over the way TL Transportation and other courier providers operate their business. TL Transportation works out of Amazon-owned facilities, receiving “packages, delivery routes, navigation software, and scanning devices” from the e-commerce megalith. “Amazon also helps train drivers, provides support on the road, and tracks drivers throughout the course of their delivery routes using their handheld package scanners,” Business Insider writes.
Alongside third-party contractors, Amazon also sends packages using FedEx, UPS and USPS. Amazon directly employs some drivers through its Amazon Flex program.
Does Amazon’s Success Come At Workers’ Expense?
Amazon’s Prime membership option has become increasingly popular in recent years. According to Business Insider, the service currently has 100 million paying subscribers, all of whom are promised free two-day shipping on millions of products. Through Prime Now, customers can enjoy same-day shipping on millions of everyday items through Amazon’s network of couriers.
Much has been made of the success of this new business model, but less attention has been paid to the rigors that large-scale same-day delivery could demand of workers.
In a new report, Business Insider interviewed 31 current or former delivery drivers affiliated with Amazon to learn more about the demanding new workplace that Amazon’s Prime promises have created.
Business Insider Finds Evidence Of Workplace Abuses
“In interviews over the course of eight months,” Business Insider writes, “drivers described a variety of alleged abuses, including lack of overtime pay, missing wages, intimidation, and favoritism. Drivers also described a physically demanding work environment in which, under strict time constraints, they felt pressured to drive at dangerously high speeds, blow stop signs, and skip meal and bathroom breaks.”
One driver, Zachariah Vargas, told a harrowing story of the day he severely injured his hand, receiving a deep cut (“Vargas thought he glimpsed bone when he wiped away the blood”) after slamming his hand in his van door. Instead of receiving compassion from his employer, who is not named in the report, Vargas was met with demands. Vargas’ supervisor told him to complete all of his deliveries – he had dozens of packages left on his route – rather than receive medical attention. When Vargas returned to his workplace, he was “mocked,” with one dispatcher saying “Are you dying right now? Girls have come back with worse wounds than you.” A manager, meanwhile, pointed to an Amazon employee at the warehouse and said, “Amazon is watching you. They don’t like when undelivered packages come back.”
The New Ecosystem Of Amazon-Affiliated Couriers
Amazon Prime’s promise of quick delivery has given rise to a new ecosystem of small businesses, a labor market that Amazon has actively encouraged. In order to fulfill Amazon’s increasing delivery schedule, hundreds, if not thousands, of small courier companies have sprung up, often locating their delivery stations close to Amazon fulfillment centers. Amazon refers to these companies as delivery service partners, or DSPs.
After partnering with Amazon, the new businesses are assigned a number of delivery routes, with an average daily volume of 250 to 300 packages per driver, per day. “Amazon also provides the electronic devices – referred to internally as ‘rabbits’ – that drivers use for scanning each package and route navigation,” Business Insider reports. Applying to become a DSP can be as easy as proving that you have delivery vans and insurance.
Amazon Ramps Up Incentives For Delivery Service Partners
Lately, in an attempt to bolster the delivery service partner ranks, Amazon has been offering a set of attractive incentives to potential affiliates. The company announced on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 that it was purchasing a fleet of 20,000 custom-branded Mercedes Sprinter vans. Amazon is also offering delivery service partners “low-cost vehicle and employee insurance plans,” according to a company press release, along with a customized payroll system.
Is Driver Pay Competitive?
Amazon says the new delivery drivers benefit from competitive pay rates and benefits. According to the drivers interviewed by Business Insider, third-party courier companies usually pay a flat rate between $125 and $150 per day, or an hourly rate from $13 to $15 an hour. That rate, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, is competitive. The median hourly wage for a delivery driver is $15.12 per hour, amounting to $31,450 per year.
Courier companies say it’s a great deal for workers. “We’re taking unskilled labor that is traditionally earning an income that puts them far below the poverty line,” says Jim Blanchard, an official at Courier Distribution Systems. “This is truly how to bridge the gap between no shot and that next level of life.”
Some drivers agree. Jermaine Lakota Johnson, a former driver at Courier Distribution Systems, looks back on his Amazon delivery days with fondness. “It was a great job,” he said, “one of my favorites actually.” Johnson says he eventually earned around $740 a week. Johnson also described a relaxed workplace in which he took advantage of flexible hours.
Long Hours & Demanding Work
Other drivers expressed dissatisfaction, including several who said they had been taken advantage of. Four drivers said they were promised health benefits, but that they’re employers never followed through. Even more workers, eight employees across four different courier companies, said they were denied overtime pay, even though they had worked longer than 40 hours per week. And 13 drivers said they had money missing from their paychecks.
“A manager at a Texas-based courier company said his company didn’t pay drivers overtime for at least a year. That’s changing now, since courier companies have started getting hit with lawsuits, he said.”
– Business Insider
A few drivers said they were unable to address workplace problems because they were afraid of retaliation. Some drivers said their livelihoods were threatened. “If I didn’t come in on my day off,” says Justin Waring, who used to drive for Courier Distribution Systems, “they threatened to fire me.”
Another driver says he was sent home on a scheduled workday after he came in one minute late. One driver even described a strange system of bribes to get easier routes. Christian Loera, a former employee of Courier Distribution Systems, says his manager “offered him a schedule with Saturdays and Sundays off if he paid the manager $500 to $600 in cash.” That manager was later fired.
Legal action is forcing courier companies to change. Over the last three years, at least five lawsuits have claimed labor and wage abuses at Amazon-affiliated courier services, with legal complaints filed in Illinois, California, Arizona and Washington. Three of these cases have been settled, Business Insider reports, though Amazon, per the terms of settlement agreements, has never admitted any wrongdoing.
Some Drivers Blame Amazon
Many of the drivers blame these labor abuses on Amazon. Eric Jeffries, a military veteran who worked for St. Louis-based DeliverOL last year, said his delivery job “was more physically and emotionally challenging than his time in the Army.” Jeffries told reporters that meeting Amazon’s demands – a 9-hour time frame for his delivery route – was almost physically impossible. Jeffries says he would park illegally, stuff packages into a backpack and literally sprint to delivery drop-off points. Within the first month on the job, Jeffries claims to have lost 30 pounds. Other drivers say they were forced to speed routinely to make their routes work.