Amazon's contract Flex delivery drivers already have to deal with various indignities, and you can now add the fact that they can be hired — and fired — by algorithms, according to a Bloomberg report.
To ensure same-day and other deliveries arrive on time, Amazon uses millions of subcontracted drivers for its Flex delivery program, started in 2015. Drivers sign up via a smartphone app via which they can choose shifts, coordinate deliveries and report problems. The reliance on technology doesn't end there, though, as they're also monitored for performance and fired by algorithms with little human intervention.
However, the system can often fire workers seemingly without good cause, according to the report. One worker said her rating (ranging from Fantastic, Great, Fair, or At Risk) fell after she was forced to halt deliveries due to a nail in her tire. She succeeded in boosting it to Great over the next several weeks, but her account was eventually terminated for violating Amazon's terms of service. She contested the firing, but the company wouldn't reinstate her.
Whenever there’s an issue, there’s no support. It’s you against the machine, so you don’t even try.
Another driver was unable to deliver packages to an apartment complex because it was closed with the gate locked, and the residents wouldn't answer their phones. In another building, an Amazon locker failed to open. His rating also dropped and he spent six weeks trying to raise it, only to be fired for falling below a prescribed level.
If a driver feels they're wrongly terminated, some feel there's not much recourse, either. Drivers must pay $200 to dispute any termination, and many have said it's not worth the effort. “Whenever there’s an issue, there’s no support,” said Cope, who is 29. “It’s you against the machine, so you don’t even try.”
Inside Amazon, however, the program has been chalked up as a success, a former engineer who worked on the program told Amazon. And that bears out in the numbers. Around 4 million drivers have downloaded the app worldwide including 2.9 million in the US, according to the report. More than 660,000 people in the US have downloaded the app in the last five months alone.
Amazon said drivers’ claims of poor treatment and unfair termination were anecdotal and don’t represent the experience of the vast majority of Flex drivers. “We have invested heavily in technology and resources to provide drivers visibility into their standing and eligibility to continue delivering, and investigate all driver appeals,” Spokesperson Kate Kudrna told Bloomberg.