- Angel Rajal, 26, is an Amazon delivery driver living in Las Vegas.
- He’s been penalized for changing radio stations and calls the new surveillance cameras “annoying.”
- This is his story, as told to freelance writer Meira Gebel.
After four years of working in an Amazon warehouse, I applied to be a delivery driver.
I wanted to be a driver because I thought I would have a lot more freedom and wouldn’t have to deal with the uneven management style in the warehouse.
I started driving in July, in the middle of the pandemic, in a classic Amazon van, but I’ve enjoyed being in a customer-facing role compared with the distribution center. (Rajal, like most Amazon delivery drivers, is hired by a local delivery service partner and considered an independent subcontractor.)
But during the holiday season, I was targeted in attempted robberies and have had people follow me while out on my route.
The time inside the van comes with its own pains, too. You’re in a packed-to-the-brim vehicle for more than 10 hours a day, are expected to deliver up to 400 packages, and each package is expected to be delivered within 30 seconds.
Amazon has completely dominated the e-commerce market in recent years. With the perks of Amazon’s services, it can be hard to pass up free speedy, if not same day, delivery. The average Amazon Prime member is reported to spend around $1,400 per year, while non-members spend $600.
There have been multiple times where I’ve had to pee in a plastic water bottle because there was no bathroom available.
Many public restrooms are closed because of COVID-19, but most of the time I’m out in the mountains making deliveries and feel pressured to keep up with my route.
My current route is fairly rural, and it would take me 15 minutes to get to the nearest restroom. It would take more than 40 minutes round-trip and put me far behind schedule, which would dock points from my score.
I used to enjoy being an Amazon delivery driver, but ever since the company installed cameras in our vans, it feels like we’re always being watched.
Amazon says the AI-powered, 270-degree cameras are motion activated and not recording all the time.
They can tell what the driver is doing. I get a “distracted driver” notification even if I’m changing the radio station or drinking water. Sometimes if I turn my head away from the front of the van, I’ll get a ding.
It’s getting to be so annoying. For every “distracted driver” notification, I’m being docked points from my safety score, which management reviews and can use to dock my hours or fire me. Amazon said the camera is there to help us with safety, but it feels like an invasion of privacy.
Most of the drivers in my DSP feel just as frustrated. Amazon has also changed its routing algorithm and marks multiple deliveries in one area as a single stop, even though the houses and apartments are spread out and are often on the other side of the block. It’s changes like these that make our jobs so much harder.
I used to think I would have freedom as a delivery driver, but most of the time I eat my lunch in my van on the side of the road because it would take me too far out of the way to find a park and enjoy the fresh air.
I used to work in the customer-service returns department.
My job was to process every return customers sent back to the company, make sure the items were not damaged, and determine whether the item could be resold.
My warehouse was the biggest I’ve ever seen. I’d estimate that more than 1,000 people worked there throughout various departments.
I worked the night shift, meaning from around 7:15 p.m. to 7 a.m. Before working for Amazon, I worked in security, so I was already used to the long late-night hours.
Amazon warehouse workers are expected to “make rate” – a productivity metric where we have to process a certain number of packages and items within an hour or risk dropping in rate, being written up, or fired. In my department, I was expected to process 40 to 60 returns in a single hour, which was stressful and at times seemed impossible.
I was written up twice during my time working in the warehouse.
The first was because I had a bloody nose and didn’t make rate for the hour I spent tending to it.
The second was when I had to leave early to deal with a family emergency. Whenever you don’t make rate, it goes into your performance review.
The most challenging thing about working in the warehouse was leadership and management.
In my experience, managers showed favoritism to some and overlooked others when it came to promotions. I applied for “ambassador” roles (workers who trained new hires) multiple times and never received a promotion or raise.
Members of leadership also contradicted one another often. One manager would tell me to do a task a certain way, and another would tell me to do the opposite. The managers often disagreed on the right ways to train new hires and coach associates on simple tasks like processing items.
Sometimes managers would yell at one another in the presence of associates.
It felt as if the company had no structure, and anyone could make up the rules as they went along.
It also felt as if we were discouraged from using our paid time off and vacation hours. Managers would often tell associates to “be careful” of how we spent our PTO because if we ever had an emergency and didn’t have enough hours to make up the rest of our shifts, we wouldn’t be able to leave. (PTO is determined by how an employee is classified, whether part-time, full-time, or salaried, and increases based on years spent working for Amazon.)
There were times when associates talked about forming a union, but nothing ever came out of those talks.
My job as a warehouse worker for Amazon was easy in terms of tasks but was physically demanding.
One thing I liked about working for Amazon as a customer-service associate was the pay and that my medical benefits were available when I started. But overall the experience in the warehouse itself was very negative.
I would say about 60% to 70% of the drivers I’ve talked to are interested in unionizing.
I stay up-to-date on Amazon news through employee social-media forums on Facebook and Reddit.
A lot of Amazon workers are paying attention to what happens in Alabama with the union vote and believe unionizing is the way to go for better pay and better working conditions.
In a statement to Insider, Amazon spokesperson Deborah Bass wrote: “Like most companies, we have performance expectations for every Amazon employee and we measure actual performance against those expectations. Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour. Netradyne cameras are used to help keep drivers and the communities where we deliver safe. We piloted the technology from April to October 2020 on over two million miles of delivery routes and the results produced remarkable driver and community safety improvements – accidents decreased 48%, stop sign violations decreased 20%, driving without a seatbelt decreased 60%, and distracted driving decreased 45%. Don’t believe the self-interested critics who claim these cameras are intended for anything other than safety.”