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How I Get By: A Week in the Life of an Amazon Delivery Driver

What it's really like to deliver hundreds of packages a day to Prime customers.

by Maxwell Strachan
16 January 2020, 7:26pm

The Amazon driver was in the middle of a delivery when he picked up my call. That’s not very surprising. Four days a week, for 10 hours a day, the driver delivers packages for Amazon. The job was supposed to be something to pay the bills while he pursued his career passion on the side. And at $18.25 an hour, the pay could certainly be worse. But when combined with his duties as a father, and the hour-long commute, he often feels like he has little extra time for anything else.

“It's got its ups and downs, man. I’m not going to lie to you,” the driver said.

The day we spoke, the driver had “160-something stops” to make. It was the holiday season, and Amazon had extended the maximum number of delivery hours some days to 12 and asked people to come in extra days to handle the rush of presents around the country. The company also requested that “no packages come back, period,” which caused a lot of stress, he said. “It’s like running around like a chicken without a head trying to get everything done.”

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Amazon provides the driver with a delivery car. Usually it’s just a plain white van, though sometimes he receives the clearly marked Prime vans, which have their benefits. For one thing, it feels safer. The driver is black—something he is keenly aware of. “I am intimidating looking, so I can assume people see me and they're like, ‘Oh my God,’” he said. “There are times when I'm like, ‘I hope these folks see that I'm wearing this jacket.’” The driver hasn’t had any major issues yet—“thank God”—though some of his co-workers have. He works in an area where it’s a bit easier to buy and own a gun. That’s something he thinks about every now and then.

The driver can’t help but feel like the people who hand Prime members their gifts get forgotten in stories about Amazon.

“When people think about Amazon, they just talk about the warehouse,” he said. “Nobody talks about the drivers.”

So the driver kept a diary on the job. This is what four work days in the life of an Amazon delivery driver look like.

Monday

I've been home from work now for about two hours and I'm trying to catch up on all the things that I couldn’t do. My work day lasts 10 hours, plus an hour on each end because of my drive to and from home. My fear is that, God forbid, something happens to my wife or kid and I gotta get back and I gotta drive an hour and a half or two hours to get home. But working today wasn’t too bad. There were no hiccups.

I make $18.25 per hour. Sometimes my check will be like $550, maybe $600 a week, after taxes. They offer drivers a number of different shifts. I work four days a week, 10:30am to 9:30pm. That was the one that worked best for me because that way I still had a couple of days at the end of the week where I thought that I would be able to squeeze in everything else I want to do. But it turns out: Nope, not nearly enough time.

The job is easy, okay? It's not rocket science. You’re just literally dropping off packages and giving them to people. What makes the job hard is the people that you work with. And that's why I chose to work on the road. I don't have to really deal with a manager. I don't have to deal with being in the warehouse. Being in the warehouse is not good because in the warehouse they're always watching you.

Perfect example of why I chose to be on the road: One of my buddies who works in the warehouse, he just sat down. He was tired and sat down. One of the managers yelled at him. What are you sitting down for? Do you see anybody else sitting down? He got up and then the guy literally took the chair and put it in the office that only the managers are allowed to go into. And I was like, was it really that serious? That's why I chose the road—I’m usually by myself.

It can be taxing on the body because when you get to the warehouse to load up, you have to do it yourself. We load up company vans with up to 15 bags, each of which has up to 30 packages, plus oversized boxes that don't fit into the 15 big bags.

This is a very solitary job, too. It can get lonely because you literally are driving around for 10 hours by yourself with no one to talk to. When I get home from work after all those hours, my kid is asleep, my wife's in bed already, and I feel like I missed out on the day.

Today I didn't do all the deliveries. I tried my hardest but there's only so much you can do in 10 hours with traffic plus walking. You get a half-hour lunch break and two 15-minute breaks that you can take whenever you wish. But if you want to finish the route, sometimes you have to skip the break. Sometimes you have to wait to get the packages that you have to deliver for the day—some days it will be as late as 3pm before you're allowed to go to the warehouse and pick up your packages. Today was good because I did not have to pee in a bottle. There are times when you're driving and you're not near any stores or restaurants and you got to go, you know? [Editor's note: Amazon said in statement that "drivers are able to take breaks to use the restroom anytime they need."]

I’m going to get some rest now because I have to be back up and at it again tomorrow. Gotta get up, get the kid to daycare and then do my hour-long drive to this job. Hopefully my knee will hang in there with me and hopefully tomorrow will be an easy day.

Tuesday

When I came in today, I didn't have a regular route. They gave us a "rescue route," where you go and help another driver with his deliveries, and take some of his bags and deliver them.

This is necessary because you can't work more than 10 hours as an Amazon driver, although you can do up to 12 hours right now because of the holidays. If you get in 15 or 16 bags, there's no way you're able to finish that and you kind of feel defeated. They’re always pushing us to deliver, and a lot of the drivers have kind of bought into this idea that it's important to deliver all the packages, which it is. There's no punishment on the books, but it's implied.

But in my opinion, it's also important to deliver safely. I don't know what everybody else is doing, but where we deliver it gets dark earlier. I try to deliver as many packages as I can but I don't over-exert myself because the way I see it, my safety is the most important.

I don't use my own car. They give me a van. It’s not like those commercials where they show the smiling lady and an Amazon Prime van. Ninety percent of the time you’re gonna get a white van. Just some random white van rolling around a neighborhood at 6 or 7 o'clock at night raises eyebrows.

Sometimes, you do get the Prime van, which can be good to have. But a lot of times I don't want it either. I don't want people knowing I’m in the Prime van because if you have anything delivered, you can track the driver. So sometimes people will drive up to me with a phone and a license, and I’m like, I don’t know you.

I want to get home. It is going to get dark soon and it’s kind of snowy. I’m delivering in a residential area, and everyone is inside. It’s very lonely, and if, God forbid, something were to happen, no one would be around to see it. I’m nervous driving these vans. From time to time I'll get a van that won’t be in very good condition and I'll say, “Hey I need another van.” Why? “Well, the tires are kind of low.” And they’ll say, “Is the car starting?” “Yes.” “Does the car have mechanical issues?” “No.” Sometimes depending on who’s working they’ll let you switch it out, but more often than not they’ll say as long as it’s running you need to take it. I don’t like that. [Editor's note: Amazon told VICE that the company performs two daily checks on each vehicle before drivers takes them out, adding that the vehicle is not used if a safety issue is identified.]

It kind of sucks too at the holidays because it's busy; Amazon gives you what's called “mandatory extra time” and they tell you you have to work on one of your days off. That’s one of the problems I have with this job. I don't think you should have to give up your free time.

But today I'm not super stressed out. Just listening to my iPod, just keeping myself motivated. People are leaving snacks outside, giving you water, which is really nice.

Saturday

Today wasn’t easy. I did more rescues, which means you take packages from other drivers. I spent all day just helping other people deliver stuff. At one point, I called for a rescue and the dispatcher said I'll call you right back in like 5 minutes. But she didn't call me back for at least 45 minutes, so I ended up waiting an hour and change and then did a rescue; finished that one rescue, and after that they sent me on another one. I had a few problems after that.

I delivered all the packages except for one box, which was giving me an error message. In the morning stand-up meeting today, they said to the drivers that no packages can come back, period, no matter what, even if someone said they didn’t want it left unless someone’s home to sign for it. Unless the customer cancels, the box is damaged, or, you know, there's a problem with something, the order can’t come back, because it's Christmas and everything’s gotta get delivered. People have notes, like, “Do not leave unattended,” and we just have to leave it. [Editor's note: Amazon told VICE that most deliveries are completed without issue and that drivers can contact Amazon's support team with any issues.]

This one box I had wouldn't scan with this device they give us called the Rabbit, and the computer device said to return it to the station. I told the station what happened. I'm talking to the dispatcher on the phone, she says to me that I have to go back out and just leave the box on the stoop. Mind you it's 45 minutes back one way for that delivery, I'd been on the road since 10:30am, it was like 9:30pm, quarter to 10 at night, and it was time for me to go home.

So we went back and forth a little bit and then she was like, “Well, I'll reassign you the package, you can deliver it.” I said, “That's a problem because I've been here for almost 10 hours.” She eventually said they’d find somebody else. It's the little things about this job that annoy me. I’d been there since 10:30 in the morning. All day. I didn't see my family. I got a wife. I got a kid. I want to go home. And you want me to go back out there?

I had a family event to go to recently that put me over the maximum attendance points for missed hours that you can have as a driver. So I’ve got my fingers crossed that I don't lose my job. My wife will be losing her job at the end of the year and we need this income.

Sunday

Today was a regular day. But one thing that stuck out to me was that, in the morning stand-up meeting, one of the supervisors told us that we need to deliver all packages, as fast as we can, because Amazon is looking at how fast you get done with your route. This kind of irked me because I'm all about safety first and it's not a secret that Amazon has had these issues with drivers driving too fast and people getting hurt. I don't particularly feel like the message you want to be sending to people is You need to be going faster. [Editor's note: Amazon said in a statement that the company regularly tells "drivers that nothing is more important than their safety" but that "if something should occur, a driver can call Amazon’s 24/7 safety helpline to get help and can always return to the delivery station at any time.”]

I just don't agree.

Everything is this job is computerized, and they're always watching you. They give us these phones to use and that’s how they kind of track us because we have to log on to this system. And this system is kind of like an old school version of MapQuest and it just kind of tells you where you have to go. And that's how they track you and watch you. “Oh, hey, you. Why were you sitting here for 20 minutes?” That kind of thing. And I hate that. I don’t like Big Brother watching me. I really don’t. [Editor's note: Regarding the tracking of delivery drivers, Amazon told VICE that it evaluates employees over a long period of time and that the company coaches employees who aren't performing to expectations to help them improve.]

Anyway, I also had to speak to the manager about my attendance points. And he was nice enough to give me a break on it, so that's kind of a relief. But I'm still looking for a new job because it's wearing me down being out here. But for the time being I’m keeping my head above water.

I really don't think this job is for people with kids. It’s probably more suited for college-age kids. I'll be ready to go home if I finish early, and some of the younger drivers are like “Nah, make that money, make that money.” And I say, I live far from here and it's gonna take me a long time to get home. Money is important but family time is more important.

I don’t think they're going to be keeping a lot of these drivers now, and that's hanging over people's heads. They're worried about their jobs. The job has high turnover. A lot of people come, a lot of people go. I don't think the company cares about the workers. In my opinion, all we are to Amazon is just a number and a route. Not people.


When VICE reached out to Amazon for comment on this diary, a spokesperson provided the below statement:

We’re proud of the safe and quality work environment we provide as well as the industry-leading pay, benefits and opportunities for career growth we offer associates. Like most companies, we have realistic performance expectations for everyone who works for or with us, and we measure actual performance against those expectations. We leverage sophisticated technology to plan delivery routes to ensure that delivery associates aren’t receiving and driving with too many packages, and we have policies and mechanisms in place to limit the number of hours delivery associates are on the road.

This post has been updated to include additional statements from Amazon.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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How I Get By