Amazon accounts for over 40 percent of online sales in the U.S. and that means a lot of deliveries, especially during the holiday season. Getting those packages to your front door is the job of individuals who are part of a program called Amazon Flex. Independent contractors deliver Amazon orders using their own vehicles. It’s a little like Uber for packages. And the way the program operates has raised questions about how workers are treated, and whether they should be classified as Amazon employees, rather than contractors.
Bryan Menegus, a reporter for Gizmodo, investigated the Flex program in his article “Amazon’s Last Mile.” He says Amazon Flex workers are treated as independent couriers. They sign up to work a specified time block, often competing fiercely for the most desirable ones.
Menegus says Flex workers don’t receive workers’ compensation insurance. And though Amazon did not comment on whether drivers’ hours are capped, workers he spoke to report that they are not allowed more than 40 hours per week.
“Anyone who is trying to do this as a full-time job is going to have a lot of trouble making enough money to do so,” Menegus says. “And there’s just generally not a system in place for people to appropriately report issues that they’re having while on the job.”
Menegus says the Flex model is becoming more popular with companies that find it easier and cheaper to farm work out to freelancers without having to provide traditional workplace protections. Further out, though, human drivers may become obsolete.
“I think Amazon as a whole would probably like to move what they’re doing with Flex toward autonomous vehicles,” Menegus says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.