- Jay (not his real name) has worked as a part-time driver for Amazon in Michigan since 2019.
- He says to avoid getting penalized by Amazon’s tracking app drivers trade phones sometimes.
- He says it’s “frustrating” being monitored. This is his story, as told to freelancer Jenny Powers.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Jay (not his real name) has worked as a part-time driver delivering packages for Amazon in rural Michigan since 2019. He spoke anonymously out of concern for losing his position. His identity has been verified by Insider.
I started working part time as a driver for Amazon in 2019 after seeing an online classified ad. I enjoy travel and figured I could use a few extra bucks, so I applied.
My starting pay was $16 an hour. For my one-year anniversary, I got an increase of $0.25 an hour. Recently, drivers received a COVID-19 bonus – part-timers like me received $150.
It’s no secret that Amazon contracts the bulk of their deliveries through third-party delivery service providers (DSPs), so while I exclusively deliver Amazon packages and wear branded clothing with their logo on it, I don’t actually work for Amazon.
I like the DSP I work for and I’m thankful for the job, but Amazon’s constant need to implement new rules is frustrating and has resulted in a lot of turnover at my workplace.
There are around 25 to 30 full-time drivers, and usually the same number of weekend drivers floating around. This is partly due to the higher turnover of part-timers. My best estimate is there are 30 to 40 new drivers since last year.
It’s like a never-ending revolving door where every time I come in, there’s a new face.
Amazon preaches safety, safety, safety, and while that’s a great narrative for the media, behind the scenes it’s another story.
There’s a lot of pressure on the DSPs to perform well otherwise they risk getting their contract pulled, and this pressure winds up trickling down to us drivers.
In the name of safety, Amazon keeps tabs on us by tracking everything, but what it really does is create more pressure.
They monitor everything – from whether we’re wearing our seat belts to acceleration, braking, cornering, reversing, and even things like touching our screens while in motion through an app called Mentor.
The app can either be downloaded on our mobile phones or a phone provided by our DSP, which is what I opted for because I don’t like the idea of having a tracker on my personal phone.
At the end of each shift, which is typically between nine and 11 hours long, the app generates a score based on how well we drove. The highest score is 850.
When I started nearly two years ago, if you got a 550 you were fine, but not anymore. Now they want you to be in the high 700’s.
I used to have a 550, but now I’m more like a 750, which is basically the lowest score Amazon will allow without the DSP getting into trouble.
The problem is your score can take a hit for things completely out of your control.
For instance, if a kid runs into the street chasing their soccer ball and you’re forced to hit the brakes unexpectedly, that goes against your score. If a deer darts out in front of your van and you swerve to avoid an accident, that goes against your score, too. If you’re driving and your GPS suddenly goes down and you touch the screen to get back on track – boom, that’s another infraction. What else are we supposed to do in these situations?
I’ve never been in an accident, but these types of instances can drag a driver’s score down, and the bottom line is everything comes down to your score.
My DSP doesn’t want to jeopardize their business, so we’ve created a workaround to game the system.
If a driver’s scores start to suffer, our supervisor will tell us to log into the app at the beginning of our shift and then hand our phone over to a driver who typically scores high to take it out on their route. Problem solved.
I drive a rental van as opposed to an official Amazon vehicle, which I prefer because those can’t go over 113km/h, not that I speed on anything.
If I’m told I have to get a camera in my van, I can tell you I probably won’t continue to work there. I don’t need to be under constant surveillance all day, even if it’s under the guise of safety.
From the moment we arrive at work, we’ve got to get our hustle on.
Once we arrive at the lot, we have to personally conduct a 60-point check on our vehicles before we get assigned to our routes, issued packets, and sent out in waves to our hub to pick up our packages. Some examples of things we need to check each shift are whether our wiper fluid is topped off, is our vehicle missing a gas cap, does our reverse camera work, and our tires for balding, pressure, and tread depth.
The hub is like a giant bee’s nest with everyone weaving in and out because we need to scan every package before loading our vehicle. Then we’ve got to move fast to ensure we can actually deliver everything on our route by 10 p.m. which is Amazon’s requirement.
I average about 150 packages and 130 stops per shift and about 30% to 40% more between peak season, which runs from October through December. During the peak, Amazon gives part-time drivers like me a $150 season bonus.
I’ve got a rural route most of the time, so the last thing I want is to be out here on some country road with no street lights delivering packages after dark.
We do get electronic notifications to take two 15-minute breaks during our shifts and a lunch break, but I always dismiss the notices and just eat while I’m driving – which is a no-no, but it’s really the only way to get the job done on time and not have to return any undelivered packages back to the hub.
The DSP gets penalized for returning packages, although I don’t know what the threshold is. I’m sure there’s an allowance built in for this as it’s just not safe to leave packages at some addresses, but my guess is the DSP gets penalized if too many are brought back.
I’m not proud to admit it, but I’ve peed in a bottle to save time on my route.
It’s partly by choice, part necessity. Working on these country routes, it can sometimes take as long as 20 minutes for me to find a fast-food restaurant or gas station, and I just don’t have that kind of time.
If there are four miles between houses and no one’s around, I might be able to pee on a country road, but more often than not, it’s a bottle in the van.
I rarely had to do this when I worked for UPS because they do so many commercial deliveries – I was always relatively close to a business where I could use the facilities.
Even on the days I do manage to finish early, it’s almost a guarantee I’ll get sent back out to help a driver on another route, which isn’t ideal because all I want to do is get home at that point.
There’s been a lot of talk about unionizing lately but personally, I’m not a big fan of unions.
I feel like in the 1940s-50s they were beneficial, but now it’s just a big, greedy power grab.
When I worked as a temp driver at UPS, I wasn’t eligible for any benefits due to my part-time status, but I was still required to pay union dues.
One of the biggest issues between Amazon and its drivers is that the people making all the rules are sitting inside offices and not behind the wheel.
So more often than not, the rules being implemented are counterintuitive to what it actually takes to do our job safely and efficiently.
Amazon prides itself on getting driver safety under control, but then puts demands in place that force us to circumvent the system.
In a statement to Insider, an Amazon spokesperson said: We support drivers taking the time they need to take breaks in between stops and provide a list within the Amazon Delivery app to see nearby restroom facilities and gas stations. Drivers have built-in time on their route to take breaks and use the restroom. In fact, the app alerts them when it’s time for a break. We work closely with DSPs to set realistic expectations that do not place undue pressure on them or their drivers. We use sophisticated technology that plans routes to be completed within a specified time, taking into account numerous factors such as package volume, address complexity, and appropriate time for breaks. In fact, more than 75% of drivers complete their routes under the planned time by 30 minutes or more. Whether it’s state-of-the art safety technology in our vans, driver-safety training programs, or continuous improvements within our mapping and routing technology, we have invested tens of millions of dollars in safety mechanisms across our network, and regularly communicate safety best practices to drivers.