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Black and Brown Amazon Drivers Face Guns, Racial Slurs, and Dog Bites on the Job

Amazon says it has a process for blacklisting dangerous and racist customers from its drivers’ delivery routes, but a Motherboard investigation found it doesn’t always do so.
June 22, 2021, 1:00pm
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Last summer, David, an Amazon delivery driver, was delivering a package in a gated community in San Bernardino, California, when two middle-aged white men in an SUV pulled guns on him. 

That week, David's manager at his warehouse had warned drivers to be careful on their routes. Protests and riots rippled through seemingly every major city in the country, including San Bernardino, in response to the murder of George Floyd. At least one Amazon delivery driver of color had been arrested while attempting to deliver packages. (David spoke on condition of pseudonymity because he feared retaliation.)

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The SUV followed him for around 20 minutes, he estimates, before one of the men ran into a nearby house and aimed a gun at him from the window. The other man, who remained in the car, pointed another gun at him from his rolled-down window. 

"It was definitely the worst thing that's happened to me on that job," David, who is Black, told Motherboard. "It felt like an act of intimidation to get me out of their neighborhood." 

David drove back to his warehouse safely. He quit working as an Amazon delivery driver in March for other issues related to his working conditions, but he said that incident felt like an extreme version of the micro-aggressions he often dealt with from white Amazon customers. In recent years, San Bernardino has become so saturated with Amazon jobs, many of them worked by Black and Latinx residents, that it has become a "company town." 

"People with Trump signs and Blue Lives Matter flags in their yards tell me 'Don't come into my yard. Put the package down right where you are,'" David said.

For many Amazon delivery drivers around the United States, intimidation, threats of violence, and aggression from customers and their neighbors are a regular part of the job. Black and brown drivers say they regularly experience racism from customers. Motherboard spoke to 10 current and former Amazon delivery drivers in New York, California, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and Illinois who described customers yelling racial slurs at them, calling the police on them, pointing guns at them, and siccing dogs after them. 

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Amazon has a system for banning these customers or removing them from its delivery routes. But many drivers say Amazon and its delivery service partners (the quasi-independent companies that employ Amazon drivers) don’t always remove threatening and racist customers from their routes. They also say Amazon fails to communicate with drivers about how serious incidents have been handled. Motherboard talked to two drivers who were sent back to the same addresses where serious and traumatic incidents occurred after they’d been assured they wouldn't be. 

Delivery drivers say part of the problem stems from Amazon's self-proclaimed "customer-obsessed" mission and the company's willingness to please its customers to the detriment of its drivers, who are often people of color. Amazon delivery drivers regularly receive specific instructions from customers to deliver packages to their backyards or inside their front gates or garages, and must comply with these instructions or risk facing disciplinary action from Amazon that could result in termination. 

Do you have a tip to share with us about working conditions at Amazon? We’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with the reporter Lauren via email lauren.gurley@vice.com or on Signal 201-897-2109.

Put plainly: Black and brown delivery drivers say they’ve been harassed, threatened, and experienced racist incidents, especially when they are delivering to neighborhoods where the overwhelming majority of residents are white.

Multiple Black and brown drivers said opening a gate or stepping onto the property of Amazon customers, especially at night, has triggered fear, anxiety, and panic attacks. They say they experience this more often at addresses with residents who have taunted or harassed workers before, or who have Confederate or Blue Lives Matter flags on display on their property. One former Amazon Flex driver said he delivered packages in his own car as an independent contractor to a house in Puyallup, Washington, with a doormat that said: "This House is Defended by the Good Lord and a Gun, You Might Meet Both if You Come in Unwelcome."  "That mat is ingrained in my memory," he said. 

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Amazon told Motherboard that it has protocols and safeguards in place to protect drivers from racist, violent, and aggressive behavior. 

"The number one thing that happens is we get called the n-word.”

“Safety is our top priority, and we’re proud of the work we do to ensure drivers across our Delivery Service Partners and Flex programs feel safe on the road and while making customer deliveries," said Alexandra Miller, an Amazon spokesperson. "When an incident occurs, drivers notify both their DSP and an Amazon team that is dedicated to reviewing and escalating the driver’s concern." 

Miller added that drivers are encouraged to report any instances where they feel unsafe or in danger, and that in the case of racist behavior, Amazon can close customers' accounts or remove the address from Amazon's service area. Drivers, dispatchers, and delivery company owners referred to this process as "blacklisting" or "deprioritizing" addresses, which is when the company passes along addresses to the United States Postal Service and UPS for delivery, or bans customers altogether. Drivers and their delivery companies say they’re not privy to the outcomes of these investigations. 

Amazon has frequently touted anti-racism and workplace safety and well-being among its values. During the George Floyd protests in 2020, Amazon donated $10 million to organizations supporting racial justice and equality, and it recently launched a wellness program for its warehouse workers called AmaZen. But grueling conditions and productivity rates in its warehouse and delivery routes disproportionately hurt Black and brown warehouse workers and drivers. Amazon delivery drivers' status as subcontractors often means they are overlooked as victims of racism and violence. 

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Michelle, a Black Amazon delivery driver and dispatcher in Illinois, says that racism is a weekly occurrence for Amazon delivery drivers in her area. 

"The number one thing that happens is we get called the N-word," she said.

One instance left her particularly uneasy. In the summer of 2020, Michelle often delivered packages to the same woman, who was white and repeatedly criticized Michelle’s service. 

Over the course of several deliveries, the customer got increasingly angry. "One time she followed me out of her house to my van, yelling and calling me a 'lazy Black bitch' and said "fucking [N-words] don't like to work," Michelle said. 

When she returned to the station, Michelle told her manager what had happened, and the manager said he would tell Amazon to blacklist the address, meaning she wouldn't have to deliver to the customer anymore. 

But after the incident, Michelle repeatedly had the woman's address on her delivery routes. A friend of Michelle's who was on the phone with her at the time of the incident confirmed she overheard the customer yelling and calling her a "Black bitch" through the phone and said that Michelle told her she had to deliver to the same customer multiple times after reporting the incident to her delivery company, which claimed to have contacted Amazon about getting the address blacklisted.

"It made me feel like 'wow, you guys don’t care about my safety at all,'" Michelle said. "This lady came up to me and called me all types of names, but I'm still delivering there."

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As a dispatcher, Michelle communicates with a small team of drivers about their progress on routes and any problems that arise. (Amazon delivery drivers often also work as dispatchers.) She said that racist incidents occur so regularly with no response from Amazon that many drivers have stopped reporting them because they think it’s futile. 

"There are plenty of incidents where you'll have a driver who's been attacked or called a name or experienced racism, and they'll call and managers will say, 'Well, I know you experienced this but sit back and finish your route,'" she continued. "I don't think managers report these incidents because all they care about is meeting our metrics." 

When an incident occurs, Amazon drivers can notify Amazon through an “Emergency help” button in the Amazon delivery app as well as their delivery company, Miller, the Amazon spokesperson, said. Amazon then collects information about the incident and conducts an analysis of what happened.

Miller did not respond to a question about how long this process takes but said "We come to a resolution when and only when we have the full picture. Once the analysis is complete, we come to a resolution that prevents the incident from happening again and ensures that the driver feels safe delivering to Amazon customers." This resolution can include removing a certain area from Amazon's last-mile logistics or banning a customer's account. 

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A team known as the Amazon Customer Excellence System is responsible for adjusting route maps once a serious incident occurs, so that drivers aren't routed to a location or area where a serious incident has been reported. These customers are removed from Amazon's delivery area and passed on to UPS and USPS. 

Amazon did not respond to a question about when Amazon would close a customer’s account versus remove an address from their service area. 

"I carry a stick and other drivers carry their guns. You have to feel safe.”

The problem is Amazon's contractor delivery companies—under financial pressure from Amazon to keep up their metrics, and daily scores on an app called e-mentor which determines who gets bonuses—often don't communicate their drivers' concerns to Amazon. Amazon also generally doesn't tell drivers and delivery companies about the resolutions of their investigations—leaving drivers in the dark as to whether a customer has been blacklisted or handed off to another delivery company. 

Manuela, an Amazon delivery driver and dispatcher in Buffalo, New York, who quit in May, said her delivery company also did little to protect drivers from racist customers and violence on their routes. 

"I’ve gotten harassed and called a 'spic' and a 'wetback,' on my routes. For me this has happened in white trailer parks with Trump signs," she continued. (Manuela is Puerto Rican.) 

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"When I reported these incidents, my boss didn’t do anything about them. We've all tried. We tried reporting these to Amazon. I send it to my boss and my boss sends it to Amazon. I never heard back." 

In April, an Amazon delivery driver was driving an unmarked white van without Amazon's logo. His route took him through a rural county in southern Michigan. One delivery took him to a house deep in the cornfields. A customer came out of the house and pointed a gun at the driver's head. The driver reassured the customer he was an Amazon delivery driver, pointing to his blue Amazon uniform, and the customer quickly lowered his gun, but the incident left the driver traumatized. Both the customer and driver were white. 

"I was completely frazzled. I was out in the sticks with no one nearby. By the time I got back to the station, it was too late to contact Amazon's emergency service because I didn't go through all of the steps at the time of the incident," he said. "I'm never going back there ever again, but that guy is still receiving packages to this day. It could very well happen to someone else.

Motherboard spoke to a dispatcher at the driver's warehouse who confirmed they heard about the incident when it happened in April. 

Last year, two dogs attacked an Amazon delivery driver in the suburbs of a major U.S. city, biting him in the leg and the neck, and sending him to the hospital, according to a 911 call report obtained through a public records request. The owner of the delivery company that employed the driver spoke to Motherboard on the condition of anonymity, and provided text messages from the driver, who is white, showing that after the incident, the address appeared on his route again. 

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"We called the cops and animal control and reported it to Amazon," the Amazon delivery company owner told Motherboard. "Amazon said we can’t have this. A week and a half later, the driver had the exact same location. He called me having a panic attack." 

"It's a big issue. The root of the problem is that Amazon pays customers to complain," they told Motherboard. "Customers who call Amazon to complain get extended Amazon Prime membership (two-day guaranteed delivery) for free. Amazon does this to create loyalty with their customer base. But for delivery drivers, there's no communication. There’s never been any feedback about whether they actually banned a house." 

Amazon often extends its customers' Prime membership for a month for free or gives customers' free orders if they call and complain about late deliveries. Dogs, in particular those used by customers to defend their private property and intimidate outsiders, are a frequent source of stress and anxiety, multiple drivers said, since they are often required to go into customers' yards and garages. 

An Amazon delivery driver in Houston who is Black told Motherboard that a few days before the 2020 general election he delivered a package to a house decorated with Confederate flags in a cul-de-sac in Lake Jackson, Texas, where a large crowd of white people appeared to be having an election barbecue. 

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The scene made him uneasy. A dog tied to a woman's chair barked and bared its teeth. When he handed the package to its recipient, the woman let her dog off its leash. It chased him down the road back to his van, latching onto his pants, he told Motherboard. 

"Quite frankly, as a person of color walking behind a house, I'm scared. I don't know what’s waiting for me. It's way worse when it's dark out."

"I was running," he said. "The dog grabbed my pants and bit a hole. Luckily, he didn't get my skin. I barely made it to the van. My only concern was why did they let this dog off its leash? I can tell my contractor about this stuff, but it’s like talking to the robot. All they care about is the customer." 

"I have problems with dogs every other day, yet they said we’re not allowed to carry pepper spray or mace," he continued. "I carry a stick and other drivers carry their guns. You have to feel safe. I deliver to a lot of white neighborhoods where they have guns and there's lots of empty space between houses, and I feel uncomfortable." 

As a point of comparison, the USPS tells its carriers to "consider all dogs as potentially hazardous" and not to deliver mail if they feel endangered by a dog, according to training materials Motherboard previously obtained through a public records request. USPS also allows them to carry dog repellant, which is similar to pepper spray. 

If a delivery stop is deemed unsafe for any other reason, the Postal Service can halt delivery until the issue is resolved, David Coleman, a spokesperson for USPS, told Motherboard. 

Amazon delivery drivers say the specter of violence from customers and their neighbors is always looming—particularly as delivery shifts carry on later into the night. In recent months, a new warehouse schedule known as "megacycle" or "single cycle" has helped Amazon speed up the delivery time for customers who order later in the day, but it pushes drivers and warehouse workers onto night-time schedules. 

"Our drivers are regularly getting off at nine or ten o'clock at night," the Amazon delivery company owner said. "Under the cover of darkness, people don’t think you have great intentions as a minority. Then you get notes to leave the package in the backyard, and drivers get [written up] if they don't do it." 

Drivers also say they regularly receive complex and passive-aggressive instructions from Amazon customers  (for example, "Leave behind black trash can in front of doors," "It's literally impossible to miss it for a person of average intellect") that involve delivering packages behind houses, inside garages, up staircases, and in specific parts of their yards. They are expected to follow these instructions, even when they feel unsafe, in order to keep their jobs, and they can be punished, suspended, or fired if they're not followed. In early 2021, Amazon released a "customer-obsessed" disciplinary policy for its delivery drivers that includes specific punishments known as "defects" and "infractions" that can result in termination.  

"Quite frankly, as a person of color walking behind a house, I'm scared," the Amazon delivery driver in Illinois said. "I don't know what’s waiting for me. It's way worse when it's dark out."