Amazon Flex Drivers Are Constantly at Risk

Behind Amazon’s lightning-fast delivery service is an entire population of Amazon Flex workers, whose wages are meager and whose employment status is as independent contractors rather than Amazon employees.

An Amazon Flex worker loading packages into his vehicle to deliver to customers in San Francisco, California, on October 30, 2018. (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, April 10, Amazon Flex drivers rallied outside of a delivery station in Woodland Park, New Jersey. Holding a banner reading “CONTRA LOS ABUSOS DE AMAZON,” the workers demanded Amazon commit to lower delivery quotas that prioritize safety as well as raising base pay for the workforce. The morning gathering followed a petition drive by the workers demanding such commitments from Amazon: more than three hundred drivers have signed.

Amazon launched Flex in 2015 to fulfill the demands of Prime Now, which promises customers same-day delivery, often within a matter of hours. Most Amazon customers are used to receiving packages from drivers in Amazon-branded vans, employees of the hundreds of delivery service partners (DSPs) that exist to service Amazon.

But Flex drivers work out of their own unmarked personal vehicles. They’re classified as independent contractors, even though the conditions of their work are determined by Amazon, which requires they complete unpaid training — watching lots of videos about how to interact with customers and deliver packages — before being accepted on the Flex app. As such, they shoulder all the costs of that labor, paying for the gas, tolls, and vehicle wear and tear that come with it, without benefits like health insurance and workers’ comp or even guaranteed hours, and they’re exempt from minimum wage protections and overtime pay too — and they also take on serious risks.

“Amazon wants us to ‘deliver smiles’ to customers, but it’s hard to feel like smiling when we’re constantly at risk,” said Evelyn, a Flex driver of two years who works out of the Woodland Park delivery station. “In the last five years, at least five Flex drivers have been shot while delivering packages. I shouldn’t have to worry that I’ll be next. No other company puts both drivers and customers in danger by delivering in the middle of the night.”

“Some drivers have been threatened with guns,” Ester, who has driven for Flex out of the Woodland Park delivery station for eight months, told me through a translator. “The homeowners have told them not to come during those hours, because they feel that they’re trespassing, because we don’t have any markings making it clear that we work for Amazon.”

The workers want Amazon to rectify the problems and minimize the danger to which they are subjecting drivers. One fix would be for Amazon to provide them with vests that have reflective material visible in the dark. Over Zoom, Ester showed me her current Amazon-issued blue vest, which did not have such material. The drivers also want Amazon to change the schedule for the most lucrative Flex work: a staffer from Make the Road New Jersey, a community organization that is supporting the workers’ organizing, told me there are sometimes hundreds of workers outside the delivery station at 3 a.m. Those workers must then drive alone through deserted and rural areas in the middle of the night, a recipe for danger.

Reliable public data on how many people deliver packages for Amazon through the company’s proprietary Flex app is scarce, as is data on their wages and quotas. Amazon claims that most Flex drivers earn $18-25 an hour, but that’s before expenses. Given that the IRS’s standard mileage rate for use of a car for business purposes in 2023 was 65.5 cents a mile, it’s all but certain that some drivers earn less than their city’s minimum wage. For comparison, a unionized United Parcel Service (UPS) driver who has reached the top rate (i.e., gone through the four-year wage progression) will make $49 an hour by the end of the current five-year contract, plus benefits.

In Woodland Park, drivers say both pay and working conditions have deteriorated since the facility opened in 2023.

Ester supplements her income as a beauty aesthetician by driving for Amazon. Her son has a disability, and as a single mother, she needed a second job. But she says her wages have gone down significantly since she became a Flex driver less than a year ago.

Ester also described a speedup in the work expectations: Flex drivers sign up for blocks, which consist of routes determined by the company.

“We usually get around forty-eight packages for a five-hour block,” she explained. “But if we get a block of three hours, we also get forty-eight packages, meaning that they pay us less for the same amount of deliveries and the same amount of packages.”

The result is predictable: drivers, under pressure to work more quickly, cut corners or drive recklessly. That puts not only them, but the rest of the public, in danger.

“Sometimes my fellow drivers pass through a red light or miss the stop sign because they want to get those packages in the amount of time that the block requires,” Ester said.

There’s also the matter of Flex drivers shouldering the plethora of risks and costs that come with driving, which range from homeowners threatening them with guns to dog bites to car repairs.

“If my car — the same one I use to take my children to school — breaks down while I’m working, Amazon doesn’t pay for the repairs,” said Belkis, a Woodland Park driver who has driven for Flex for more than two years. “If a dog bites me while I’m delivering a package, Amazon does not offer me medical insurance, and I have to pay out of pocket. It is not fair that I have to decide if I have enough to pay rent or for food this month because Amazon, the largest and wealthiest company in the world, can’t provide a livable wage and safety conditions to its drivers.”

Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the United States and claims to aspire to be the Best Place to Work on Earth. The Woodland Park Flex drivers’ conditions suggest such a claim is simply branding. The company has been dubbed an “injury machine.” Amazon has repeatedly shown that it cannot be trusted to accurately report data on the safety of its actual employees; we certainly cannot expect them to tell the truth about the shadow workforce of Flex drivers.

The Woodland Park drivers plan to continue organizing, bolstered by this month’s rally. There are many more Amazon delivery stations across the country, and undoubtedly, the workers at those locations face similar issues as Woodland Park’s workforce. Ester told me that she and her coworkers are eager to build ties with their counterparts across the country and up and down the e-commerce giant’s supply chain. When I asked her what she’d like to say to her fellow Amazon workers, she offered the following message:

We should fight together. We’re in this together to make Amazon value us as workers, and we must value each other as workers. We know that Amazon is a monster, but without us, it wouldn’t be the successful company that it is now. We are an essential part of making sure the packages are sent, and we only want Amazon to value us, to value the work that we do, to pay us a fair and livable wage, and to make sure that we’re not forgotten. We’re here, we’ll continue organizing, and we’ll continue to fight until Amazon hears our demands and makes changes.