To Jeff Bezos, from an Amazon Delivery Driver
Dear Mr. Bezos,
I finished my last day as an Amazon Delivery Driver today. I drove for 6 weeks — 31 working days — and in that time I delivered about 3,000 of your Amazon packages. I realize they’re not exactly “yours,” since you only own 11% of Amazon. But as the largest shareholder, the founder, the CEO, and the president, I figure you’re the best one to address this letter to.
So here’s a quick update from the front lines — what it’s like day to day and some lessons I’ve learned on the job.
The alarm goes off. You roll over, hit snooze once. The second time you get up. You probably showered last night after a long day, so you just make some coffee, wolf down a granola bar, and slip into your blue and black Amazon uniform.
Since Amazon warehouses are usually located in the outskirts of main cities, away from most residential areas, you have a short commute. Fortunately, you have a car — many drivers rely on family or public transport to arrive at work. Windows down in the warm LA weather, music playing, you enjoy a few minutes of relative peace.
Your destination is a large parking lot a few blocks from the Amazon warehouse. Fifty other blue-vested drivers are converging on this staging area to receive their assignments for the day: which van number, which route number, which staging area at the warehouse. Experienced drivers are familiar with dozens of routes, can drive any of the four types of delivery vans with ease, and can deliver up to 150 packages in 8 hours. But since you are still new, you’ll start with a smaller van and a shorter route: 90 packages, in a quiet suburb away from traffic and apartment buildings.
You get into your van, being sure to sign into 3 apps: the time clock, the delivery guidance system, and the driving monitor. The driving monitor is widely disliked, since it penalizes you every time you pick up your phone at a stop light or brake quickly when a pedestrian walks in front of you. Fortunately for you, the monitor is hardly relevant because of a peculiar fact: bonuses are awarded to subcontractor delivery companies (who perform almost all deliveries) based partially on the driving scores of their drivers. So most of them have quietly spread tips and tricks to ensure that the driving monitor only records a small (and perfectly driven) portion of your day.
One by one, as drivers finish signing in, the vans file out of the staging area and down a few blocks to the Amazon warehouse parking lot. It is a picture of efficiency, loading hundreds of vans every hour in a space hardly bigger than an Olympic swimming pool. The employees there are largely friendly and helpful, though they tend to be young and a little lost because turnover is so high at the warehouse (as it is among drivers). Nevertheless, as you load 9 large tote bags full of packages and 15 separate “oversize” boxes into your van, you can’t help but marvel at the well-oiled machine running around you.
You’ll probably chat with other drivers while you load. You might even start recognizing a few other drivers. One of my favorites was a kid I called “Crocs” — I never did learn his real name. He had the most incredible smile if you could make him laugh and he wore Crocs to the staging area every morning. He and I would joke about his shoes sometimes. Someone might comment on the hot weather or a mistake made by warehouse staff. Many also work in silence, eager to get on the road.
And the road claims you all, faster than you would think possible, white and blue trucks streaming out of the warehouse parking lot headed for the far-flung city suburbs. It’s a quick ride down the freeway to your route, and you follow the delivery guidance system (Flex) to your first delivery.
You spot it: a typical suburban house with a gray fence. A row of cars is parallel parked in front, and you know this street is quite busy so you park a short distance away in order to not block traffic for a few minutes. You check your mirror, open your door, and walk to the back of the truck while checking your phone to see which package Flex tells you to grab. There are two for this delivery, it indicates, one envelope and one of the oversize boxes. You sort through a few envelopes until you find the right one, then find the oversize box under another one which fell on it while you were driving. Close the back door, remotely lock the van, and double-check the house number as you walk toward it. There’s no house number — double back, check for a number painted on the curb — there it is. Whistle to check for a dog, open the gate, close it behind you, look for a part of the porch which isn’t visible from the road, set the package down there, click “deliver” on the phone, take a picture of where you put the package, out the gate, close it behind you, enter the van, follow the directions to the next delivery.
With only 60 stops, you have more than 6 minutes to do this for each delivery. The best drivers do it in 3 minutes — 120 times a day. And statistics for each delivery are recorded by Amazon, from the quality of the pictures you take to the location of where you set each package, so you have to be thorough.
After a few hours, you stop for lunch. You are allowed exactly half an hour, to the point that if you punch a 32-minute lunch into the time clock, you need to go back and change it to 30. Thus, food is generally brought from home or bought from fast-food joints. Today it’s Chipotle — one of their beautiful chicken salads, with guacamole to reward yourself because it’s hot outside. You check your app while you’re eating and calculate in your head: you’ve delivered 1/4 of the packages but 1/3 of the day has passed. You’ll have to hurry up a little after lunch. You poke your fork into the last few pieces of cheese and lettuce and pop them in your mouth as you head back to the van.
The afternoon passes in a blur, concerned as you are with finishing on time. Usually, if you don’t finish on time, someone else who finishes early will be sent to “rescue” you. But if no one is available, you’ll have to stay late and finish — only in the most extreme cases are drivers called back to the warehouse early.
Bathroom breaks and general hygiene are real problems, of course. You try not to drink too much water, and when you do need to go you try to hold it until you spot a Starbucks or “porta-potty” on your route so that you don’t lose too much time. You’re encouraged to wash their hands every 20 minutes, which is a frequent joke in the driver staging area since most only see a sink at lunch. But all carry hand sanitizer and wear masks to every delivery. The mask is usually wet with sweat most of the afternoon, but it’s worth it for the public health concerns — and to avoid dirty looks.
Of course, dirty looks are something you’ve gotten used to, even in your first few days. The other day an old man in glasses came out and firmly asked you why you were parked in front of his suburban mansion. A young lady scolded you when she found a tear in the back of the envelope you delivered. A couple you didn’t spot seated on their front porch yelled at you stepped on their lawn. It’s just part of the job.
There are good customers, of course. The nicest woman introduced you to her massive white dog, Dover, the other day. Parents tell their toddlers to wave at you, from a safe distance of course. And many customers say thanks when they spot you out the window. Those little interactions mean the world, on the lonely road. The only other company is music, on the radio or in your earbuds — the breakneck pace of deliveries requires too much concentration for podcasts or audiobooks.
Finally, you check Flex and see only a few deliveries left on your route. It’s a good feeling — you can almost taste home. You drop the last package behind a potted plant on a beautiful stone-lined porch with ivy crawling over the door, take a picture, close the gate behind you, and get in the van. Only one thing remains before you head back: call your delivery subcontractor and ask if you can “come home” or if anyone else needs a “rescue.”
Fortunately, everyone’s nearly finished, so you’re off the hook for the day. You head down the freeway to the warehouse, unload any packages you couldn’t deliver, head back to the staging area, drop off your van. Get in your car, take off your shoes, turn on the radio, lean back in the seat, take a deep breath. Another day down.
All this for $15 an hour — ~$1.50 for each little package safely delivered. But I don’t think the subcontractors can raise that, because they are paid by Amazon based on a flat rate for each package, and there are only so many packages a single driver can deliver. So until that rate changes, I imagine the pay will have to stay around that.
I was grateful for this job, to be clear. Due to the pandemic, I was desperate for any income. And with Amazon’s business booming, they were one of the few places hiring during the summer. Since I couldn’t get COVID unemployment, having just moved back to the States, it was a godsend.
It was also the most difficult job I have ever done, in many ways. I arrived at home exhausted every day I worked, legs and ankles aching. I checked Facebook and answered messages less than any office job I ever had. I was treated with less respect around town than I expected.
But I also learned a great deal. Thrift, to begin with, since I couldn’t afford a studio apartment on my own. Patience, as I learned that I usually couldn’t control the speed of my routes — stairs, confusing apartment numbering systems, locked gates, tiny alleys, there was no telling what the day would bring. Detail orientation, matching 4-digit numbers on my phone, on packages, and on signs and buildings over and over again. Self-confidence, as I stood my ground against some particularly rude customers.
So I share what I learned, in the hope that it is useful for you and your team. My best wishes for the future.
Amazon Delivery Driver, Aug-Sep 2020
DLA8, Los Angeles, CA
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