Inside the life of an Amazon Flex driver

February 7, 2020

Flex drivers and other gig workers at Amazon need to get protections so that, should they injure themselves while making a delivery, they won’t be without a means to earn money, according to Professor David Weil (ECON/HELLER) in an NPR conversation with NPR Reporter Adrian Ma and Correspondent Stacey Vanek Smith. The three talked about the people who deliver packages, and Ma and Smith interviewed one of the people who delivers Amazon packages full-time in one of their latest episodes of “The Indicator from Planet Money.”

According to Morgan Stanley, only half of Amazon shipments are delivered by Amazon itself—the final drop to a person’s doorstep is often made by a worker hired through Amazon Flex. Similar to Uber, Amazon Flex is an app through which people are notified to drive between locations to drop off or pick up Amazon packages. Ma and Vanek Smith interview an anonymous Amazon Flex worker under the pseudonym ‘Lynne,’ who reveals that the job is flexible as well as higher-paying than her previous job as an administrative assistant. 

However, while the hours and pay may sound appealing, there are certain trade-offs, according to Ma and Vanek Smith. For one, an Amazon Flex driver could make up to 30 or 40 stops in one shift—30 or 40 stops, Ma notes, that involve the potential of “bad roads, hungry dogs… and slip and falls.” Those risk factors are only increased when taking into consideration the fact that most Amazon Flex workers have to carry bulky packages. For instance, just some of the packages Ma noted that the interviewed Flex worker carried were a pressure cooker, a child’s car seat and a fish aquarium. In the process of carrying these packages, Lynne recalls a time she slipped on a customer’s wet stone walkway. “I landed right on my back,” Lynne remembers. 

“The mail deliverer … or UPS driver… would be protected by a whole set of workplace laws,” Weil explains to Vanek Smith and Ma. However, as Amazon considers Flex drivers to be independent contractors, Amazon is not responsible for any injury that may fall upon the drivers. But given the amount of control Amazon has over its drivers, the label of independent contractor comes into question. “When you have that much control over what a worker does and the consequences of failing to do that, we call that employment,” Weil points out. 

While Lynne noted earlier in the interview that the hours are flexible and convenient, she also notes that she “works a lot harder than she used to.” About 35 hours of her week are spent driving, and then there are the added hours of waiting on her phone to take a shift. When asked how her work now affects her social life, Lynne only laughs and asks, “What social life?” 

Lynne said that despite the struggles associated with being an Amazon Flex driver, she likes the flexible schedule. “It might be nice to have some more benefits, but not if it means losing the flexibility … from gig work.” In the meantime, then, thousands of Amazon Flex drivers like Lynne will keep rounding up ordered packages to doorsteps across the country.  Amazon employs 789,000 workers, according to its Annual Report 2019, page 4.

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