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Yesterday, drivers for one of Amazon’s delivery service partners in California went on strike to protest Amazon refusing to bargain a contract with them. These drivers, who unionized with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in late April, are the first drivers within Amazon to go on strike in the U.S.
Motherboard covered this story with the headline, “Amazon Delivery Drivers Walk Out in First-Ever Driver Strike.” This makes sense, given that it is what happened. Delivery drivers who work at an Amazon facility, deliver Amazon packages, and typically drive Amazon-branded trucks, walked out of their Amazon facility. Amazon, however, contests this point. As a spokesperson for the company wrote in an email to Motherboard: these drivers are not Amazon drivers, actually, but drivers who deliver for Amazon, which is a very critical factual difference. Important context is needed here to understand how Amazon’s delivery system works. Amazon contracts third-party delivery companies, which are known as delivery service partners (DSPs) and are often small businesses, to deliver its packages out of its warehouses. The DSPs are responsible for hiring and training drivers, dispatching routes, and maintaining vehicles, according to statements from Amazon previously provided to Motherboard. The actual delivery drivers, in turn, are employed by the DSP, though they work in Amazon facilities to deliver Amazon packages, and how they work, when, and how much they get paid is largely determined by terms Amazon sets with the DSP. The drivers who went on strike work for Battle-Tested Strategies, which is a DSP contracted by Amazon to deliver its packages throughout Palmdale, California.
An Amazon spokesperson emailed Motherboard after the initial publication of the aforementioned article, in response to a request for comment about the strike. After providing comment, which was added to the article, the spokesperson then sent a second email. “I’m writing to ask if you’d be open to updating your headline of the story you just posted,” the spokesperson wrote. “It reads that these drivers are ‘Amazon drivers’ and that is inaccurate given they are employed by Battle-Tested Strategies. Would you update the headline to read ‘drivers delivering for Amazon’?”As somebody with formal training in semantics, given that I studied linguistics in college, I can assert that there is no quantifiable semantic difference between a person who is an Amazon delivery driver and a person who is a delivery driver for Amazon, or a driver who delivers for Amazon, or whatever other ordering of those words you can come up with. The only nuance here is trying to create distance between the company and the drivers by putting the words farther away from each other. They mean the same thing to any average person who speaks English, but legally, Amazon is trying to clarify that it does not directly employ these drivers, which allows the company to take advantage of a vast network of delivery drivers with limited liability and accountability to the people who perform that labor.Moreover, over many months of Motherboard covering Amazon drivers, Amazon has never once asked for such a clarification in any prior Motherboard coverage, including in prior coverage of these very same drivers. Amazon has said multiple times in official statements to Motherboard that these drivers are not employed by Amazon directly—which is why Amazon has refused to bargain a contract with them and why they were on strike this Thursday. This problem is in fact the crux of the battle between the company and the Teamsters, who argue that Amazon is in fact an employer of the drivers. “There is no question that Amazon is a single and/or joint employer with [Battle-Tested Strategies] under the Act,” the Teamsters wrote in an unfair labor practice charge against the company in May. Amazon, however, seems to have many questions about this—the most recent being whether Motherboard will update the headline.