Interview: 'Things Shouldn't Be Like This': Why One Amazon Driver Walked Out on Easter
Working conditions at Amazon have been under a spotlight for months—not only for workers in the company’s warehouses but also for its delivery drivers, who face extreme quotas, long hours, and intense surveillance.
The pressure to keep up with stringent delivery standards is so heavy that many drivers use “pee bottles” due to the lack of access to bathrooms. The company inadvertently drew attention to this problem in March by denying it; after journalists chimed in with documentation, Amazon had to acknowledge the practice is widespread.
Some of these drivers work for Amazon’s growing “gig” arm, Amazon Flex, where drivers deliver packages in their own cars and are classified as independent contractors. But an increasing number of packages, particularly in large urban areas, are delivered in Amazon-branded vans by drivers in Amazon-branded uniforms who do not work for Amazon, but for a layer of subcontractors known as Delivery Service Providers. These DSPs operate out of delivery stations, a network of last-mile warehouses that Amazon has built up in competition with UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, though the company still relies on them to deliver many of its packages.
After Amazon announced that many delivery drivers would be required to work on Easter, drivers across the country began communicating with one another on the online message board Reddit about the idea of a walkout. While it’s unclear how many drivers ultimately participated, at least one driver in Rochester, New York, decided to take up the call and picket in front of his warehouse. Joe DeManuelle-Hall interviewed that driver, Colin Shellard. The interview has been edited for length and clarity
Labor Notes: Who do you work for and what their relationship is with Amazon?
Colin Shellard: Who I really work for is RML. They are a transportation company, or a Delivery Service Provider, for Amazon. In my facility I believe there’s a total of six to eight DSPs. They average between 80 to 100 drivers, driving a combination of the big Amazon vans [similar to a big UPS truck—Eds.] and the normal Amazon vans [a cargo van—Eds].
But Amazon has complete control. RML knows that we have these heavy loads, and that the routes are broken. But the DSP can’t do anything about it, because if they don’t enforce Amazon’s policies, then they lose the contract with Amazon.
What’s a day on the job like?
In the morning we have to sign in to four different apps and do two different van inspections. The main app is the Flex app. That’s where you see your route and where you are going to be making deliveries.
Sometimes you’ll get a really good route where it makes sense—it’s one house after another, pretty fast. But most of the time, your route is kind of messed up, meaning you’ll visit the same street three different times, wasting a lot of your time. If Amazon created a better app with better routes, it would make the day a lot easier, with less stress.
Another part of the job is, it’s a very verbally abusive job. Some of the things that customers say to you—I’ve met some of the worst people in my life doing this job. I’ve had people threaten to shoot me, some scary stuff. I have people pull over and just curse at me.
How does your work get measured? What kinds of standards do they hold you to?
When you sign on to whatever DSP you’re working for, they tell you the average amount of stops you have to deliver is 20 [per hour]. But because of the recent route sizes [i.e. how many stops drivers have to make], we now have to go above the average—we need to do 25 to 30 just to finish on time. Amazon told its DSPs to fire all of the seasonal workers who were hired for the peak season, and who were a lot of help when the routes started getting bigger, so we have lost people to help us out.
We also have an infraction system for deliveries. If you mess up three instructions within any time period, you go on a three-week suspension and then if you mess up one more house, you lose your job. If you see 800 houses a week and you mess up three of those instructions because you’re trying to go fast, it’s completely unfair, and you’re stuck with it. You can’t explain it, and they don’t care.
Everything is enforced by Amazon. I just want to make sure that everybody knows that these DSPs have no say; the drivers have no say. It’s only Amazon saying, “No matter what, deliver these packages.”
How have things been recently?
Before peak season, I would say the routes were fair and it wasn’t that bad. If you were falling behind a little bit, you were okay. If you had to go use a bathroom, you could drive to a gas station to find one.
But once peak season hit, we were warned that the routes were going to be huge—I’m talking like 190 stops, an average of almost 300 packages a day, and [we would have] to go out and work extra days. It was nice for, like, one month. If you knew for one month they were going to absolutely be horrible, but you’re going to make a lot of money, it was fine.
But then once peak season ended, the routes were the same—and we weren’t getting the bonuses. We weren’t making overtime anymore.
And then things got really unfair. Amazon was telling the DSPs to let go a bunch of drivers so they could condense the routes—so that drivers have to deliver more. They said the DSPs had to put cameras in the vans, so there are now new infractions, which you can lose your job very easily because of.
But we don’t get paid more—we don’t get Covid pay, we don’t get hazard pay, we don’t get any wage increases. And no matter how many packages you have, Amazon’s like, “Well, it’s your problem now. You have to solve it.”
So what happened on Easter? What inspired you to do something?
It was honestly a combination of things: some of the classes I’m taking right now [in college], and coming across the DSP Drivers Reddit [an online message board] where the walkout got inspired from. It was things from the classes I’m taking—applying them to my job and slowly realizing, “Oh, this isn’t right. This isn’t it. Things shouldn’t be like this.”
Unfortunately, I was the only Amazon driver to show up. I got four other people who wanted to support me because they had friends who are Amazon drivers. From a lot of Amazon drivers that I talked to, they said they wanted to come out but they were scared of losing their jobs.
This one guy dropped his mom off, because she’s a warehouse worker. He saw us and he pulled over and then he was there with us for a half hour, so that was really touching. He was saying that his mom is tired all the time. And that it’s really hard for her to keep up.
We took inspiration for some of the signs from the Amazon protests in Alabama about the union vote. One said, “We’re humans, not robots.” And that’s saying, we’re not just this machine who runs his routes and delivers packages, no matter what. We’re human beings.
My favorite sign that we made said “free bathroom breaks” and it had a bunch of empty Gatorade bottles on pieces of string. Unfortunately, drivers have to resort to using a bottle, and from what drivers say, Gatorade bottles are the best bottles for that.
What do you think comes next? What do you think it’ll take to see change at the DSPs?
I think it’s going to be really important for the other drivers to see that I didn’t lose my job because of this. And I’m going to become Amazon’s Golden Boy, their best driver. I’m going to drive like a grandma, follow every single instruction to every single detail, because I think it’s really important—because like I said, a lot of drivers’ reason why they didn’t come out was they were scared of losing their job.
In my opinion, it’s going to take all the DSPs in our concentrated area banding together. If all the DSPs in Rochester, New York, band together, then Amazon cannot fire them or terminate a contract. It’s going to take everybody hopping on this ship for us to make any change.
I definitely saw that when we protested. People were getting inspired and showing support, and I’m hoping that the next time—whenever I do another protest, further down the road—a lot more drivers will come out.
For more on the conditions facing Amazon delivery drivers, see Jake Alimahomed-Wilson’s articles “Building Its Own Delivery Network, Amazon Puts the Squeeze On Drivers” and “Surveillance, Stress, and No Bathrooms: Life as an Amazon Driver” for Labor Notes, excerpted from the book The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy.