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14-hour days and no bathroom breaks: Amazon's overworked delivery drivers

<span>Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

James Meyers worked as a driver for several Amazon delivery service providers in Austin, Texas, for about one year until he quit in October 2020 citing the immense workloads and poor working conditions.

Fourteen-hour shifts were common because delivery service providers wouldn’t allow drivers to return any packages from their routes and the pressure to meet delivery rates meant Meyers used a plastic bottle to go to the bathroom on a daily basis.

“I saw no effort on Amazon’s part to push delivery service providers to allow their drivers to use the restroom on a normal human basis, leading many, myself included, to urinate inside bottles for fear of slowing down our delivery rates,” Meyers said.

Related: 'We deserve more': an Amazon warehouse’s high-stakes union drive

“Any time a van is off route or stops for longer than three minutes, it notifies the delivery service provider. Amazon encourages the delivery service owners to cut down on said stops. I would personally get called by a dispatcher every time I stopped to go to the bathroom. Sitting on the phone with them made the stop take longer. It just wasn’t worth the angry looks in the morning or the worry I’d get fired.”

Amazon uses contractors for delivery services, a move Meyers said makes it exceedingly difficult for workers to organize, and he said, contributes to drivers being overworked and underpaid by the delivery service providers who are paid bonuses on metrics such as route completion percentages.

Amazon has been publicly opposed to unionization and organizing among their employees, most recently through an anti-union campaign launched ahead of a union election vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, which has included anti-union captive audience meetings and sending mass texts and ads to workers encouraging them to vote against the union.

The Teamsters Union is now working with drivers at Amazon delivery service providers around the US over concerns about the retail giant’s impact on the transportation industry and use of subcontractors.

An Amazon delivery driver pushes a cart of groceries to load into a vehicle outside of a distribution facility on 2 February 2021 in Redondo Beach, California
An Amazon delivery driver pushes a cart of groceries to load into a vehicle outside of a distribution facility on 2 February 2021 in Redondo Beach, California Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

“This sort of model is problematic for the entire industry,” said Randy Korgan, the director of the Teamster’s Amazon Project. “They’re willing to loan these small subcontractors money, get them access to their vans and help them advertise for employees to offload all the responsibility that would normally fall on Amazon.”

The Teamsters currently represent pilots at two Amazon air transport contractors.

Korgan said the wages Amazon delivery drivers receive, starting at $15 an hour, are far below the average wages for drivers at companies like UPS, where Teamsters represent about 240,000 workers. Based on the union’s current contract, UPS drivers start at $21 an hour and can make up to $40 an hour or more.

“If Amazon decides to take millions of jobs and essentially cut their labor costs in half, that only comes out of workers’ pockets,” added Korgan. “That creates a major economic problem in an industry that for the last 50 years has done a good job of supporting millions of middle-class jobs.”

In Iowa, the Des Moines Register reported the Teamsters are organizing drivers and warehouse workers at Amazon for higher pay and less stringent rates, utilizing strikes rather than focusing on union elections through the National Labor Relations Board.

Drivers for Amazon contractors have complained of the surveillance and pressure they receive through cameras and a tracking app, Mentor.

A driver for an Amazon delivery service provider in the Portland, Oregon area, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, expressed concerns over the surveillance cameras being installed in delivery vehicles, as she often has to use the bathroom in the van due to the lack of available public restrooms and pressure against taking time off of routes to use them.

“In order to take a bathroom break, especially being a woman, we would have to be in an area that has a grocery store. That isn’t always the case and even if it were, that would take at least 10 minutes off our drive time, in which our dispatch would wonder why we’re falling behind,” she said. “So instead, I keep a cup with me and wipes and I go to the bathroom in the back of my van. I’m very concerned about the AI technology being installed in the vans, and being seen while I am urinating is just one of my concerns.”

Drivers for Amazon delivery service providers also face fear of retaliation for trying to organize in their workplaces.

Derrick Flournoy worked as a driver for an Amazon Delivery Service Provider in Downers Grove, Illinois, for more than one year before he quit after experiencing retaliation from management for organizing an online chat for workers to discuss grievances on the job such as the lack of pay increases.

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have gone back and forth every week about who is the wealthiest person in the world and I can’t even pay my rent

Derrick Flournoy

“I started the chat group on a Friday morning, and about an hour after the chat group was put up the manager took it down, which we didn’t even know that he had the power to do if he wasn’t included in the chat, and then he also disabled my ability within the entire app to even communicate with anybody, unless it was directly with management,” said Flournoy, who filed an unfair labor practice charge through the Amazon Delivery Drivers Coalition against Amazon after he was removed from his work shift immediately after the incident. “To me, it was obvious retaliation, and it was his way of showing that he had power and if we didn’t basically form a model of who he wanted, that he could take our hours.”

Flournoy made $16 an hour, which remained unchanged from when he started in December 2019 to when he left in February 2021, even as a 40-hour full-time work week wasn’t guaranteed.

“Sixteen dollars an hour isn’t enough for the amount of work that we have to do. We’re a representation of the wealthiest company in the world and we’re barely making enough money to live,” Flournoy added. “I just think that it’s crazy to me that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have gone back and forth every week about who is the wealthiest person in the world and I can’t even pay my rent. I’m breaking my back to deliver packages every day and there’s no compassion from upper management to understand or to listen to drivers’ concerns.”

An Amazon spokesperson claimed drivers have built-in time through their routes for breaks and provide a list of nearby restrooms in the delivery app. They did not comment on the unfair labor practice charge or on organizing efforts by drivers.

“We’re proud to empower more than 2,000 delivery service partners around the country – small businesses that create thousands more jobs and offer a great work environment with pay of at least $15/hour, healthcare benefits, and paid time off,” the spokesperson said in an email.