It seems that there is not a week that goes by that Amazon does not make headlines, and this week is no exception. Yesterday, Amazon announced that it would raise the minimum wage of its U.S employees to $15/hr. The new wage will take effect Nov. 1 and will apply to all of its part-time employees, seasonal workers, and workers hired through temp agencies. This is news to celebrate.
However, there is a group that won’t get this raise: contract workers. And that’s notable because there are LOTS of contract workers delivering packages for Amazon as demand continues to increase. While Amazon contracts with USPS and other traditional package carriers like UPS, it has also been steadily ramping up its own delivery services. There’s Amazon Flex, whereby independent drivers use their own vehicles to deliver packages, similar to how other drivers use their personal vehicles to ferry passengers for Uber and Lyft, or to deliver food via UberEats, Postmates, and others. The Flex program promises “great earnings, flexible hours” and the opportunity to “be your own boss.” But is that the reality? In June, staff writer for the Atlantic Alana Semuels wrote about a day spent delivering packages for Amazon Flex and described it as a “nightmare.” (To be sure, that’s one person’s experience, but it’s an interesting one and worth the read.)
In addition to the Flex program, Amazon also contracts with independent courier services who hire drivers to help ferry packages between local fulfillment centers and homes, businesses, storage lockers, car trunks, etc. You might have seen them—many are driving unmarked white vans loaded with packages. (And according to Business Insider, some of the working conditions endured by those couriers leave something to be desired.)
In July, Amazon announced that it was ramping up the game and was creating a program that would help people start their own small business delivering packages (“Delivery Service Partners”). For $10,000 Amazon will help their Delivery Service Partners get started with their small business, beginning with five delivery vans. Interestingly, the delivery partners will be considered full-time employees of Amazon, but the workers those business owners hire won’t be. And in more recent news, Amazon recently announced that it purchased 20,000 Mercedes Benz vans that it will use in this program. (These ones are blue with a big Amazon logo, so there’s no wondering what these vans are up to, unlike those mysterious white ones you might have seen around.)
The image of all those Amazon delivery vans lined up and ready to go is a sight to behold. It is interesting, and noteworthy, that cities seem to have trained so much of their focus on the impacts of TNCs like Uber and Lyft on congestion, while the ever-expanding world of goods delivery gets far less notice. While goods delivery certainly replaces some trips that we otherwise might have taken ourselves, Rick Stein recently pointed out that history has shown that we usually don’t just substitute one thing for another.
The news about the minimum wage raise is certainly positive, but there are lots of questions that still need to be answered about the widespread impacts that Amazon is having not just on the labor force, but on transportation networks as well.