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Aurialie Jublin

The Day I Drove for Amazon Flex - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • But Flex operates year-round, not just during the holiday season, which suggests there’s another reason for it: It’s cheap. As the larger trucking industry has discovered over the past decade, using independent contractors rather than unionized drivers saves money, because so many expenses are borne by the drivers, rather than the company.
  • The company doesn’t share information about how many drivers it has, but one Seattle economist calculated that 11,262 individuals drove for Flex in California between October 2016 and March 2017, based on information Amazon shared with him to help the company defend a lawsuit about Flex drivers.
  • “A lot of these gig-type services essentially rely on people not doing the math on what it actually costs you,”
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  • One Amazon Flex driver in Cleveland, Chris Miller, 63, told me that though he makes $18 an hour, he spends about 40 cents per mile he drives on expenses like gas and car repairs. He bought his car, used, with 40,000 miles on it. It now has 140,000, after driving for Flex for seven months, and Uber and Lyft before that. That means he’s incurred about $40,000 in expenses—things he didn’t think about initially, like changing the oil more frequently and replacing headlights and taillights. He made slightly less than $10 an hour driving for Uber, he told me, once he factored in these expenses; Flex pays a bit better.
  • If the driver gets into a car accident, the driver, not Amazon, is responsible for medical and insurance costs. If a driver gets a speeding ticket, the driver pays. (UPS and FedEx usually pay their trucks’ tickets, but Amazon explicitly says in the contract Flex drivers sign that drivers are responsible for fees and fines­.)
  • Brown likes to work two shifts delivering groceries for Amazon, from 4:30 to 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 to 8:30 a.m., but the morning we talked, no 4:30 shifts were available. He sometimes wakes up at 3 a.m. and does what Flex workers call the “sip and tap,” sitting at home and drinking coffee while refreshing the app, hoping new blocks come up. He does not get paid for the hour he spends tapping. Twice in the last year, he’s been barred from seeing new blocks for seven days because Amazon accused him of using a bot to grab blocks—he says he just taps the app so frequently Amazon assumes he’s cheating.
  • Akunts said that people often get “deactivated,” which means they receive a message telling them they can no longer drive for Flex. Sometimes, the workers don’t know why they’ve been terminated and their contract annulled, he told me. It can take as long as a month to get reinstated.
  • But lots of people risk it and park illegally in meters, he told me—the number of parking citations issued in the first three months of the year for people parking illegally at red and yellow meters grew 29 percent from 2016, according to data provided to me by the city.
  • And then there was the fact that the Flex technology itself was difficult to use. Flex workers are supposed to scan each package before they deliver it, but the app wouldn’t accept my scans. When I called support, unsure of what to do, I received a recorded messaging saying support was experiencing technical difficulties, but would be up again soon. Then I got a message on my phone telling me the current average wait time for support was “less than 114,767 minutes.” I ended up just handing the packages to people in the offices without scanning them, hoping that someone, somewhere, was tracking where they went.
  • Technology was making their jobs better—they worked in offices that provided free food and drinks, and they received good salaries, benefits, and stock options. They could click a button and use Amazon to get whatever they wanted delivered to their offices—I brought 16 packages for 13 people to one office; one was so light I was sure it was a pack of gum, another felt like a bug-spray container.
  • But now, technology was enabling Amazon to hire me to deliver these packages with no benefits or perks. If one of these workers put the wrong address on the package, they would get a refund, while I was scurrying around trying to figure out what they meant when they listed their address as “fifth floor” and there was no fifth floor. How could these two different types of jobs exist in the same economy?
  • Gig-economy jobs like this one are becoming more and more common. The number of “non-employer firms” in the ground-transportation sector—essentially freelancers providing rides through various platforms—grew 69 percent from 2010 to 2014, the most recent year for which there is data available, according to a Brookings analysis of Census Bureau and Moody’s data.
  • “We’re going to take the billion hours Americans spend driving to stores and taking things off shelves, and we’re going to turn it into jobs,” Viscelli said. “The fundamental question is really what the quality of these jobs is going to be.”
  • Liss-Riordan says one of the biggest obstacles in getting workers to take legal action over their classification is that many Flex workers agree, upon signing up to deliver packages, to resolve disputes with Amazon through arbitration. Companies can now use arbitration clauses to prevent workers from joining together to file class-action lawsuits, because of a May Supreme Court ruling.
  • Even weeks after I’d stopped driving for Flex, I kept getting new notifications from Amazon, telling me that increased rates were available, tempting me to log back in and make a few extra bucks, making me feel guilty for not opening the app, even though I have another job.
  • My tech-economy experience was far less lucrative. In total, I drove about 40 miles (not counting the 26 miles I had to drive between the warehouse and my apartment). I was paid $70, but had $20 in expenses, based on the IRS mileage standards. I had narrowly avoided a $110 parking ticket, which felt like a win, but my earnings, added up, were $13.33 an hour. That’s less than San Francisco’s $14 minimum wage.
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    "Amazon Flex allows drivers to get paid to deliver packages from their own vehicles. But is it a good deal for workers?"
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