Amazon Furniture Assembly Service Adds New Chaos to Delivery Workers’ Lives

The company’s foray into furniture installation has already sparked ire among some drivers, who say they've been offered no training on how to assemble furniture.
June 7, 2021, 1:00pm
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On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Some Amazon delivery drivers are now required to install and assemble furniture, appliances and other bulky items for customers inside their homes as part of Amazon's new premium delivery service, in a move to compete with other retailers that offer similar services, like Wayfair, Home Depot, and Best Buy. 

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The program has already sparked ire among some drivers, who say they've been offered no meaningful training on furniture assembly, and that the time Amazon has allotted for these deliveries vastly underestimates the labor involved in transporting items to customers' room of choice anywhere in their house, unpacking boxes, assembling these items, hauling away the packaging, and occasionally repackaging the item on the spot if the customer isn't satisfied for any reason. Motherboard obtained a bizarre Amazon video explaining the system to employees. It is narrated by a monotone robot, and at one point features two animated Amazon employees named Steven and Amy, who also have robotic voices.

“Thanks so much for choosing us! Could you confirm you are satisfied with this delivery and service?” a monotone voice representing Amy says to a customer. 

“Absolutely! I love this service you guys have performed! I would definitely choose this service again in the future,” a slightly different robotic customer voice responds.

“It’s our pleasure,” Amy responds.  

In the real world, real people perform these services and they don't always go as smoothly. Drivers have been asked to assemble coffee tables, ottomans, TV sets, and beds.

"It has been a fucking challenge. It always takes much longer than they allow for," an Amazon delivery driver in the Hampton Roads, Virginia metropolitan area told Motherboard. "The times they give feel completely random and way off. And there's been absolutely no training whatsoever. They just said you're going to do this."

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Motherboard granted the driver anonymity because they feared retaliation from Amazon.  

For example, Amazon allotted 11 minutes and 15 seconds for two drivers to transport a 59-part ottoman, made by Christopher Knight Home, to a customers' room of choice, unpack and assemble it, according to a schedule obtained by Motherboard. One of the drivers on this delivery said the whole process took 35 minutes, more than three times as long as Amazon had calculated. 

Customer reviews of the same Christopher Knight Home ottoman on Amazon's website suggest that while some customers found assembly easy—others could not figure out how to attach the bottom and top halves, or claimed to be "missing hardware." Drivers do not receive training on assembling specific items before they arrive at a house, and it's fair to assume, could run up against similar problems. Broadly speaking, furniture assembly can be so difficult, complicated, or frustrating that there are memes and video games about it.

Amazon delivery drivers already work under extreme pressure and surveillance from Amazon to complete up to 400 deliveries on 10-hour shifts. In order to stay on top of their jobs, drivers are regularly pressured to skip lunch breaks, pee in bottles, circumvent safety rules, and sprint across busy streets to keep up with productivity demands. Amazon's delivery drivers are severely injured at nearly three times the rate of UPS drivers, according to a report released this week. 

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Amazon drivers will not be paid extra or allowed to take tips from customers for assembling furniture, according to the two drivers whose delivery contractors are participating in the program in Virginia. In April, Bloomberg reported that Amazon is piloting this program in Virginia and two other markets. 

"We were told we're doing this as a reward because we work at one of the top performing Amazon delivery stations in the country," another Amazon delivery driver in Virginia told Motherboard. "They said everyone would have to do it. No pay increase. Everyone is very upset not only because there is no extra pay but people are concerned about liability from lack of training."

An Amazon spokesperson, Alexandra Miller, told Motherboard that the program is optional for delivery companies and that Amazon allows them to nominate drivers to participate in the program.

“Amazon offers installation and assembly of heavy and bulky items, such as furniture—an offering similar to what other furniture retailers already provide," Miller, the Amazon spokesperson, said. 

"This service has been in place in several areas and the team is looking forward to the expansion," Miller continued 

Miller told Motherboard that all drivers received a two-hour training for the program, followed by a 20 question exam at the end of the training that they must pass in no more than two tries. 

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But the two drivers participating in the program said they had only received a seven-minute animated training video narrated by a monotone robot, two happy-go-lucky workers, and dissatisfied customers. The exam on that video only has two questions. Motherboard reviewed the training video and confirmed that it does not offer any instructions on how to assemble furniture or the types of furniture that drivers need to be prepared to assemble, and that the exam only has two questions. 

Motherboard also obtained a few other delivery schedules for the new program that indicated that time-slots for these deliveries are measured down to the last second. 

For example, Amazon allocated less than three minutes and 44 seconds for two drivers to transport a king size Casper mattress to their customer's room of choice, unpack it, and install it. The mattress weighs 104 pounds, according to its listing on Amazon.com. 

Drivers had less than 7 minutes to deliver and assemble a 234-pound dining table. 

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Amazon did not respond to a question about how it calculates how long it should take to assemble a piece of furniture—but these time slots do not seem to account for the time it takes drivers to carry a box up stairs or travel through a large home or building to the customer's room of choice. 

Amazon drivers, who are regularly disciplined and fired for falling behind on their quotas, worry that this new program—which is yet another example of Amazon's self-professed "customer-obsessed" ethos— will put their jobs at risk. 

Update: This article has been updated to clarify that Amazon allows its delivery companies to nominate which drivers will participate in the program.