The Amazon Delivery Service Worker Who’d Finally Seen Enough
Amazon worker Frank Chavez. Illustration by Molly Crabapple

The Amazon Delivery Service Worker Who’d Finally Seen Enough

This arti­cle is part of a series on Ama­zon work­ers pro­duced in part­ner­ship with In These Times.

When aspir­ing engi­neer Frank Chavez (a pseu­do­nym) took a job deliv­er­ing pack­ages for Ama­zon after grad­u­at­ing from col­lege last Decem­ber and mov­ing back home with his fam­i­ly in Los Ange­les, he thought he’d found a short-term gig to help cov­er the bills. Then the pan­dem­ic explod­ed in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, its accom­pa­ny­ing reces­sion cloud­ing his future prospects. Soon Amazon’s boom­ing e‑tail empire became his main source of income.

Chavez says his job has got­ten tougher over the past few months. While he start­ed out deliv­er­ing about 230 pack­ages per day, mak­ing over 100 stops for a local ful­fill­ment cen­ter, those num­bers have bal­looned dur­ing the pan­dem­ic to ​300320350 pack­ages, with [as many as] 160 stops. So it was a big spike; [the] num­ber of pack­ages and stops just increased.” In addi­tion, he and his cowork­ers noticed that rather than deliv­er­ing to just one address like they had before, “[My employ­er] start­ed group­ing a lot of the hous­es into one sin­gle stack. I find myself going to three dif­fer­ent hous­es for every stop.”

Dri­vers face intense pres­sure to fin­ish their deliv­er­ies with­in their shift. “[They] roll their ankles all the time” when rush­ing from deliv­ery to deliv­ery, he says.

While Amazon’s ful­fill­ment cen­ters are noto­ri­ous for mak­ing work­ers pack box­es at a break­neck pace, dri­vers face a dif­fer­ent set of risks when cov­er­ing the so-called ​last mile” of the route from the ful­fill­ment cen­ter to cus­tomers’ doorsteps. Last-mile deliv­ery, a com­plex and cost­ly com­po­nent of Amazon’s oper­a­tions, is often sub­con­tract­ed to ​part­ners” or third-par­ty deliv­ery ser­vices with which the com­pa­ny sup­plies its brand­ed vans, uni­forms and nav­i­ga­tion tech­nol­o­gy. Oth­er couri­ers are employed through Amazon’s Flex ser­vice as inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors and dri­ve their own cars. Since Ama­zon does not offi­cial­ly employ these work­ers, it avoids direct lia­bil­i­ty when they run into trou­ble. Deliv­ery dri­vers have been involved in about 60 seri­ous vehi­cle acci­dents since 2015accord­ing to a 2019 analy­sis by ProP­ub­li­ca.

The pan­dem­ic is ​a very scary time for the dri­vers,” Chavez says, ​because we see the major­i­ty of work­ers are stay­ing at home, yet we still keep get­ting called out to go deliv­er.” He also notes that his employ­er, an Ama­zon con­trac­tor, was not pro­vid­ing staff with basic pro­tec­tive equip­ment for their routes.

When Chavez approached his super­vi­sors to demand masks, gloves, and hand san­i­tiz­er, he recalls, “[They] were kind of dis­mis­sive. They [said the com­pa­ny] ​does­n’t have the mon­ey to pay for this type of stuff, so this is some­thing that Ama­zon has to do for you guys.’”

Chavez was intim­i­dat­ed to speak out, ini­tial­ly. ​For the most part,” he says, ​my cowork­ers are pret­ty qui­et on this stuff. [We would] talk about it amongst each oth­er and say, ​Hey, you know, we don’t have any, any masks. That’s messed up. … They should be tak­ing care of us.’ But we won’t say any­thing out loud because we don’t want to be seen as trou­ble­mak­ers. There’s this idea that if we start to speak up, we could get in trouble.”

Though he had not been at the com­pa­ny long, Chavez soon dis­cov­ered he wasn’t on his own. A few days after ask­ing about per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment, he says, his employ­er start­ed to dis­trib­ute the gear to work­ers. He would lat­er learn that Ama­zon had been pres­sured by the Ware­house Work­er Resource Cen­ter (WWRC) — an orga­ni­za­tion based in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia that had cir­cu­lat­ed peti­tions on the work­ers’ behalf and urged Ama­zon to pro­vide equip­ment to both its dri­vers and its ful­fill­ment cen­ter employees.

Chavez has since joined his fel­low dri­vers in work­ing with the WWRC to address these kinds of issues, some of which pre­date the pan­dem­ic. As part of the group’s wider cam­paign to orga­nize work­ers across Ama­zon’s oper­a­tions, the dri­vers are plan­ning a cam­paign for over­time hours and sched­ules that do not over­work them, in addi­tion to clean vans. (Work­ers cur­rent­ly share their vehi­cles and have just 15 min­utes at the start of each shift to dis­in­fect the cabins.)

Although Ama­zon would not com­ment on the specifics of Chavez’s work­ing con­di­tions at an anony­mous deliv­ery ser­vice, spokesper­son Lisa Levandows­ki said in a state­ment, ​we are doing every­thing we can to keep [work­ers] as safe as pos­si­ble.” The com­pa­ny claims that it has dis­trib­uted masks to deliv­ery ser­vice part­ners, that ​all deliv­ery vehi­cles and equip­ment are dis­in­fect­ed each day, and deliv­ery devices and mobile phones are dis­in­fect­ed after each deliv­ery appoint­ment,” and that it has estab­lished the Ama­zon Relief Fund, which sup­ports dri­vers and oth­er sub­con­tract­ed work­ers affect­ed by COVID-19 or finan­cial hardship.

For Chavez, the prob­lems run deep­er than dis­in­fect­ed vans. San­i­ta­tion as a whole had tak­en a back­seat before the pan­dem­ic, he says, with dri­vers often leav­ing ​pee bot­tles” behind at the end of a shift. Dri­vers resort to bot­tles not only because they are too rushed to take a bath­room break but because their usu­al pit stops — fast food restau­rants — have denied them access to their restrooms due to fears about the coro­n­avirus’ spread. ​We have to com­pro­mise,” Chavez says, ​and some­times that [means] using a bot­tle or going in pub­lic. … These con­di­tions demor­al­ize us.”

Still, encour­ag­ing fel­low employ­ees to speak out can be a chal­lenge when work is so pre­car­i­ous. The com­pa­ny, he says, makes work­ers feel like ​we’re replace­able at any minute, espe­cial­ly right now with COVID…[They give the] impres­sion that there’s peo­ple that are going to be look­ing for work, so we kind of have to stay in our lane.” When peo­ple have raised con­cerns about safe­ty and san­i­ta­tion with the human resources depart­ment, he adds, ​they tell us that we have the option to resign.”

Chavez claims he and his cowork­ers were gal­va­nized when they saw that oth­er Ama­zon work­ers at a New York ful­fill­ment cen­ter had walked off the job. ​We were all talk­ing about it,” he rec­ol­lects. ​Like ​Hey, we should do the same, you know?’” But soon after­ward, they were dis­heart­ened to learn that one of the work­ers involved in the protest, Chris Smalls, had been fired—“a big sign that they could basi­cal­ly find a way to get rid of us if we try to organize.”

Still, Chavez has con­tin­ued meet­ing with the WWRC along­side six of his co-work­ers. But it is unclear how long any of the dri­vers will remain employed since Ama­zon announced it was cut­ting con­tracts with sev­er­al deliv­ery con­trac­tors (includ­ing Chavez’s, accord­ing to WWRC), trig­ger­ing some 1200 lay­offs. Unlike many of his fel­low dri­vers, he aims to move on to anoth­er job soon, and he wants to help those who ​feel like their voic­es are not being heard.”

Ama­zon has pre­vi­ous­ly stat­ed its oppo­si­tion to union­iza­tion at its ful­fill­ment cen­ters and has been accused of using sur­veil­lance and intim­i­da­tion to sup­press orga­niz­ing among its work­force. Although the WWRC is not a union, Chavez wants the company’s dri­vers to learn how to advo­cate for them­selves, ​so they could have some rep­re­sen­ta­tion [and have] a clear voice that gets a mes­sage across that [reflects] the needs of the workers.”

His inspi­ra­tion to act, he says, comes from watch­ing his moth­er work fac­to­ry jobs his entire life.

A lot of times she would not speak out on unsafe work conditions…because she was undoc­u­ment­ed,” he reflects, ​so a lot of fac­to­ries took advan­tage of her labor and real­ly didn’t show appre­ci­a­tion. I could­n’t … pro­tect her when I was grow­ing up, so now I feel like I could try to help oth­er people.”


Michelle Chen is a con­tribut­ing writer at In These Times and The Nation, a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at Dis­sent and a co-pro­duc­er of the ​Bela­bored” pod­cast. She stud­ies his­to­ry at the CUNY Grad­u­ate Cen­ter. She tweets at @meeshellchen.

Molly Crabapple, an artist and writer in New York, is the author of, most recent­ly, Draw­ing Blood and Broth­ers of the Gun, (with Mar­wan Hisham). Her art is in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tions of the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art. Her ani­mat­ed short, A Mes­sage from the Future with Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, has been nom­i­nat­ed for a 2020 Emmy for Out­stand­ing News Analy­sis: Edi­to­r­i­al and Opinion.

Co-published with In These Times.

Save An Endangered Species: Journalists

Michelle Chen is a con­tribut­ing writer at In These Times and The Nation, a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at Dis­sent and a co-pro­duc­er of the ​“Bela­bored” pod­cast. She stud­ies his­to­ry at the CUNY Grad­u­ate Cen­ter. She tweets at @meeshellchen.

Skip to content