Unionized Delivery Workers Sue Amazon for ‘Heartbreaking Reality’
It is a joy for anyone to get what they wanted. When it arrives overnight or in a day, the smiles on the faces of those who receive it from the deliveryman are even brighter. But what about the hearts and minds of the delivery people who bring that joy to the recipients?
Susumu Adachi (pseudonym, in his 40s), who has been in charge of Amazon delivery for nearly three years, told us the following words exchanged among those involved in the business.
The last mile is the toughest part of the Amazon business.
The “last mile” refers to the final stage from the time an order is placed with a single click to the time it arrives at its destination, from the distribution center to the point of delivery.
Mr. Adachi began delivering Amazon packages in January 2020. Since the spread of corona infection promoted telecommuting nationwide, the use of Amazon.com and other mail-order services has skyrocketed.
The previous year, an Amazon distribution center opened in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Japanese transportation companies joined the market. Adachi, who had always enjoyed driving and had worked as a newspaper deliveryman on scholarship when he was younger, had the know-how to grasp the lay of the land and make efficient deliveries. When he heard that an acquaintance had started a second subcontracting company, he immediately took on the job of delivering Amazon products.
At first, Adachi, who had the experience and aptitude for the job, says he was “rather overpaid” for his daily work.
His contract as a driver was not an employment contract; he was a freelancer, a so-called sole proprietor. He leases a delivery vehicle from the company for 1,000 yen per day (30,000 yen per month). He knows the delivery routes by heart and delivers packages in the most efficient order. Mr. Adachi, who has experience in this field, was able to deliver an average of 100 packages during his initial working hours when the unit price was 170 yen per package, and 120 packages during the peak season, with enough time for breaks.
In July 2020, the company changed the daily rate to 18,000 yen and the daily delivery workday to 13 hours, or 60 hours per week. Since the daily delivery volume had fluctuated somewhat up to that point, the company was pleased that the fixed daily allowance would lead to a stable income.
A year later, however, after Amazon introduced AI, the situation changed drastically. Amid the spread of corona infection, the number of packages to be delivered within 13 hours increased. Before they knew it, the number of packages kept growing, eventually exceeding 200. The unit price of packages was reduced by half.
The company would bring in packages for the morning delivery from the distribution center and deliver them to residences, returning to the center by 3:00 p.m. to load them for the afternoon delivery. The time is calculated as delivery time from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., taking into account a one-hour lunch break, but in reality there is no time for lunch or a break, and the driver just keeps on delivering packages, getting in his car, and moving on to the next. The driver continues to deliver packages, get in the car, and move on to the next delivery location.
It takes only about four minutes to move to the next delivery location, scan the package, ring the doorbell, and deliver one package. Of course, the delivery locations are not always adjacent to each other, and sometimes heavy packages must be carried to the fifth floor of an apartment building without an elevator. Mr. Adachi expresses his frustration.
It may be hard to understand when you hear that we deliver for 13 hours a day, but in reality we are constantly getting in and out of the car without a break. I try my best to finish the packages I take care of in a timely manner.
The driver’s deliveries are tracked down to the second, but he can never complete one delivery in four minutes. Even so, he feels strongly that he must finish his deliveries for the day, no matter what time it is.
Is this loyalty to the company?
Mr. Adachi says, “It is more of a desire to respond to the fact that customers are waiting for us.
Labels that do not match the actual weight of the cargo with the weight label
Nevertheless, if they continue to make deliveries for 13 hours a day, or even longer in some cases, without a break, by the end of the day they are “exhausted,” both physically and mentally. Not only do the smiles disappear, but the deliverymen also bow their heads and beg for forgiveness from clients after 9:00 p.m., which is set as the last hour of delivery.
Delivery routes were also calculated and determined by the AI, which had no actual driving experience. One-way streets, railroad crossings, detours at construction sites, etc. were not taken into account. Recently, although routes are now determined by humans, delivery times remain fixed, and the volume of goods is increasing in response to public demand.
The “norishiro” to adjust the time is to increase the speed of the car. Drivers trying to make up for delays are half-intimidated and frequent traffic accidents occur. It is a very dangerous working environment. The film “When I Think of My Family,” by the British film master Ken Loach, reflects exactly the way Amazon delivery drivers work.
In June, Mr. Adachi and 10 others formed the Yokosuka Branch of the Amazon Delivery Workers Union in an effort to change this dangerous labor practice. In September, 15 drivers in Nagasaki City also joined together to form the “Nagasaki Branch” as a result of labor consultation and other activities.
The union immediately requested collective bargaining with secondary subcontractors. The union pointed out the possibility of disguised contracting work and demanded that the long working hours be corrected by optimizing the delivery volume.
Such pursuit by the labor union revealed another new shocking reality. It was revealed that the company had instructed workers to use someone else’s code if they worked more than 60 hours per week.
Personal codes are assigned by the company to each delivery person in order to keep track of arrival and departure times, location information, and work progress. However, for drivers who had exceeded 60 hours, the company instructed them to use someone else’s code, such as a retiree.
In addition, another problem has emerged that could lead to another industrial accident. According to union members, they have identified labels that do not match the actual weight of the cargo with the weight label.
In some cases, labels with “0.0 kilograms” printed on them were affixed to boxes, and “team lifting” was also found to be mixed in, for which the union is seeking explanations. The weight of packages over 25 kg, which require “team lifting,” is so great that there should literally be written instructions for more than one person to work on them, but the delivery person is always working alone.
In addition, since transport trucks are subject to a maximum loading limit, overloading due to improper weight labeling can also affect braking and handling and induce traffic accidents.
Many delivery workers who are forced to drive for long periods of time suffer serious back pain, joint pain, and cervical strain, and back pain can become so severe that walking becomes difficult. In addition, they also suffer from tendonitis in the fingers of their hands from the repetitive process of grabbing boxes off the back of the truck.
The labor union organized by Mr. Adachi and his colleagues has also filed a collective bargaining proposal regarding these demands with Amazon Japan LLC, which has an outsourcing contract with the second-tier subcontractor, but the company responded that it has no direct employment relationship with the delivery workers and has not responded to negotiations.
Amazon Japan’s Saying
Amazon Japan is planning to further increase its cargo volume, and we hear that the company is considering changing its daily deliveries from the current 200 to 250, but will the delivery staff’s cargo volume increase even more than it does now? When we sent a letter of inquiry to Amazon Japan, the company declined to comment on specific questions, saying, “We will refrain from commenting on specific questions.
He added, “Amazon is deeply grateful to the drivers who deliver Amazon products to meet our customers’ needs. Drivers work for Amazon’s contracted delivery service partners (DSPs) and are not employees of Amazon.
Amazon works with all DSPs to ensure that DSPs and drivers do not feel undue pressure to perform their duties, and requires DSPs to provide a safe working environment and comply with relevant laws, regulations, and Amazon standards. If a DSP is found not to be in compliance with Amazon’s standards, we will take appropriate action.
I would think that if they took care not to put undue pressure on their work, they could reduce the number of traffic accidents caused by half-intimidated drivers trying to catch up in order to meet quotas. ……
Adachi, who works with the hope that multiple labor problems will be corrected as soon as possible, appeals to Amazon users to be aware of the “last mile.
What is happening behind the scenes of what I want and how it will be delivered? I would be happy if people would think about the fact that the lives and livelihoods of many people depend on it.
Interview and text by： Chie Matsumoto
Journalist. She mainly covers issues related to social justice, including human rights and labor. She is co-author of "Mass Media Sexual Harassment White Paper" (Bungei Shunju) and "Manga de Wakaru Black Kigyo" (Godo Shuppan), and co-translator of "Striking China" (Sairyusha), which will be published in January 2021. Co-translation of "The Power of Change to Move the World: A Message from the Co-Chairman of Black Lives Matter" (Akashi Shoten) will be published in January 2021.