Fear, Intimidation And Wage Theft: Amazon Delivery Drivers Suffer 'Inhumane' Working Conditions

As Whole Foods workers push back against the crushing demands of their Amazonian overlords, stories of more labor abuses perpetuated by the e-commerce giant - which has developed a reputation for ruthless efficiency - are coming to light.

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The latest horror story was published on Tuesday by Business Insider, and purports to tell the stories of drivers for Amazon delivery subcontractors who complain about unsafe working conditions and pressure to deliver packages on time at all costs - even if it means speeding, peeing in bottles or delaying critical medical care.

In interviews over the course of eight months, drivers described a variety of alleged abuses, including lack of overtime pay, missing wages, intimidation, and favoritism. Drivers also described a physically demanding work environment in which, under strict time constraints, they felt pressured to drive at dangerously high speeds, blow stop signs, and skip meal and bathroom breaks.

Many of their accounts were supported by text messages, photographs, internal emails, legal filings, and peers.

BI reportedly spoke with 31 current or former drivers for its subcontracted "Amazon Flex" delivery service. These drivers have become a crucial part of its push to circumvent FedEx and UPS, and some of the stories that the organization managed to corroborate wold be unacceptable anywhere else.

The BI story began with one worker's story about being told by their supervisor to drop off their packages before heading to the hospital after slicing his hand to the bone.

Zachariah Vargas was six hours into his shift delivering packages for Amazon.

He was about to drop off a package when he accidentally slammed the door of his truck on his hand. The door clicked shut, trapping his middle and ring fingers.

Once he freed his fingers, the blood began to pour. Both of Vargas' arms started to shake involuntarily. The lacerations were deep. Vargas thought he glimpsed bone when he wiped away the blood.

Panicked, Vargas called his dispatch supervisor, who was working at a nearby Amazon facility.

He said he received no sympathy.

"The first thing they asked was, 'How many packages do you have left?'" he told Business Insider.

When the employee pushed back, his supervisor, who operated out of an Amazon facility using Amazon equipment, even though they technically functioned as a subcontractor, gestured to an Amazon floor employee and issued a chilling warning.

The same manager ordered Vargas to unload his truck and pointed toward an Amazon official at the warehouse and told him: "Amazon is watching you. They don't like when undelivered packages come back."

But while these employees suffer abuses and indignities meted out by their mercenary bosses, Amazon is reveling in its "cost-effective" employment structure whereby it can utilize employee labor without taking responsibility for the employees.

For Amazon, paying third-party companies to deliver packages is a cost-effective alternative to providing full employment. And the speed of two-day shipping is great for consumers. But delivering that many packages isn't easy, and the job is riddled with problems, according to interviews with 31 current or recently employed Amazon-affiliated delivery workers with experience across 14 third-party companies spanning 13 cities.

Given the company's reputation for treating its workers like expendable meat puppets, it's hardly a surprise that Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act. The bill, which was named to implicate Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, would tax corporations with at least 500 employees for the value of public assistance those workers receive.

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But while Amazon contractors struggle to make ends meet, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the rest of the company's board are heading to Washington for a series of meetings, dinners and even a widely hyped speaking engagement that have kick-started rumors that Washington DC will be the location of Amazon's HQ2. The company, which launched the search a year ago, has reportedly been kicking the tires of different locations in the DC metro area, including towns in Maryland and Virginia, according to the Washington Post. 

Amazon has booked the Renwick Gallery for a 40-person dinner on Tuesday, though neither the museum or Amazon would offer any details about the event. On Thursday, Bezos is set to give a talk at the Economic Club of Washington that is expected to be its most popular event since Warren Buffett spoke there in 2012. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser are all expected to attend. Bezos will also deliver the keynote address at an Air Force conference at National Harbor on Sept. 19, which WaPo suggested could be tied to Amazon Web Services' pursuit of a massive contract with the Pentagon that could be worth $10 billion over 10 years.

And despite the recent FAANG pullback, Amazon shares continue to hover just below $2,000 a share, leaving Bezos, the world's wealthiest man, with a fortune of more than $150 billion.

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