Amazon DSPs Tell Drivers to Avoid Safety Inspections

Amazon drivers begin their delivery routes as workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, prepare to leave their jobs demanding greater protection and payment after several workers at the facility were diagnosed with COVID-19. .

Paul Hennessy | Barcroft Media | fake images

Amazon courier companies in the US are directing workers to avoid daily inspections aimed at making sure vans are safe to drive.

Amazon requires hired delivery drivers to inspect their vehicles at the beginning and end of their shift as a safety measure. But some drivers say they are under pressure to ignore the damage and complete inspections as quickly as possible, so delivery companies can avoid taking the trucks off the road. If delivery companies take a van off the road, they run the risk of missing valuable package routes and drivers may miss a shift.

These inconsistent inspection practices undermine the company’s public messages about worker safety. They also highlight the tension delivery partners face between ensuring driver safety and keeping up with Amazon’s aggressive delivery fees, which can run to hundreds of packages per day per driver.

CNBC spoke to 10 Current and former Amazon delivery drivers in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Texas who found their trucks had problems ranging from stuck doors and tires with little or no tread to broken backup cameras and broken mirrors. They say managers told them to ignore these issues and complete their deliveries as usual. Some of these drivers asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from their employers or Amazon.

“They were telling us, just make sure everything is fine and ready,” said Chastity Cook, who left working for an Amazon courier company in Illinois earlier this year. “We just went through the list. We don’t even stop to read it and we make sure everything is there. “

Cook’s former employer, Courier Express One, could not be reached for comment.

Amazon told CNBC in a statement that the company regularly audits delivery companies for compliance with safety policies, including two vehicle safety checks every day. Amazon is taking the vehicles out of service until safety concerns are addressed, the company said.

“When security protocol is broken, we take various actions, including ending our relationship with a DSP. [delivery service partner] if warranted, “the company said.” We are actively researching the experiences in this story and do not believe they are representative of the more than 150,000 drivers who deliver packages safely every day. “

Amazon’s DSP program, launched in 2018, plays a critical role in the company’s vast fulfillment and logistics operations. The DSP network is made up of at least 2,000 contract delivery companies and 115,000 drivers in the US, often distinguishable by blue Amazon-branded vans, driving the last mile to buyers’ doorsteps.

Because the DSP network is run by partners, drivers and managers operate remotely from the retail giant. The work environment and quality of management vary widely between DSPs, say the drivers.

Amazon has previously said that it informs drivers of security best practices and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in security mechanisms across the DSP network. Before stepping down as CEO, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos vowed to make employee safety and satisfaction more company-centric.

The company has increasingly relied on vehicle software and technology to monitor driver safety. In February, Amazon rolled out AI-enabled cameras on its delivery vans that are designed to detect safety breaches and, for years, it has used an app called Mentor to track drivers’ driving behavior. Amazon rates drivers and DSPs, in part, on their compliance with safety measures, which may determine your eligibility for bonuses.

Courier companies have discovered workarounds for some of these tools. Vice reported in May that some DSPs were encouraging drivers to turn off Mentor while on their route to ensure they continue to hit Amazon’s delivery targets.

Additionally, Amazon continues to face extensive scrutiny around the safety and treatment of its warehouse and delivery personnel. Under pressure to deliver packages to Amazon’s more than 200 million Prime members, drivers are increasingly talking about working conditions, including claims that workers routinely urinate into bottles and are pushed into dangerous situations while on the go. on the road.

How inspections work

CNBC obtained a screen recording of the inspection process, known as the Driver’s Vehicle Inspection Checklist, showing a step-by-step breakdown of how it works.

Drivers open the Flex app and scan a barcode on their vehicle that pairs it with the app. After that, a window appears in the application instructing the drivers to start the inspection.

Drivers check the front, passenger side, rear, driver’s side, and cab of their vehicle. Within each category there are several subsections that require additional inspection, such as the truck’s lights, tires, mirrors, steering, cameras, and brakes.

If a driver reports problems with the truck, the Flex app will promptly ask you to contact your manager. The app will also not show drivers your package delivery route. After the truck is repaired, the driver assigned to the vehicle first should verify in the Flex app that the problems have been fixed.

Otherwise, a screen at the bottom of the checklist will say “did not report a problem with the vehicle”. Drivers must check a box that says, “I hereby certify that my vehicle inspection report is true and accurate.”

Damaged seat belts, broken backup cameras

In its DSP safety manuals and instructional materials, Amazon encourages drivers not to drive dangerous vehicles. An inspection guide distributed to drivers and viewed by CNBC says, in bold and red, “Do not operate any unsafe vehicles on the road.”

A separate 11-page safety manual for DSPs states that “drivers must report all vehicle deficiencies, including breakdowns and defects, immediately.” The document, which is not dated, also says that the pre-trip and post-trip inspections are necessary to “ensure that your assigned vehicle is ready for the road and does not present any hazards that impede the safe operation of the vehicle.”

But drivers say their vehicles have persistent safety hazards, from stuck doors and broken backup cameras to tires and seat belts that won’t lock, and managers discourage them from reporting these issues on the checklist.

“They told us not to mark things if they were broken because then the truck would not be drivable,” said Cook, the Illinois driver. “They said to report the damage to management.”

An delivery driver carries boxes to a van outside a distribution facility on February 2, 2021 in Hawthorne, California.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | fake images

A former Austin driver, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from his former employer, said a manager told them that if they marked something wrong with their vehicle, they would not have a shift that day.

The driver said they noticed numerous safety hazards while working for his DSP. Several trucks had broken backup alarms, which alert pedestrians and other vehicles when the truck is backing up. Check engine lights and other sensors often flashed on the trucks, enough for drivers to joke that they looked like Christmas lights, the driver said.

Andre Kirk, a former Amazon delivery driver in Indiana, recalled when he was inspecting his truck and noticed that the check engine light was on. Kirk thought it meant it was supposed to be off duty, but was forced to drive it anyway.

Concerned for his safety, Kirk drove the truck to a nearby Jiffy Lube. The technician told Kirk that he couldn’t work on the Mercedes-Benz sprinter vans used by some DSPs, so Kirk decided to get back on the road and complete his shift as safely as possible.

Kirk said he was confused why his DSP wouldn’t allow employees to report problems like the ones he experienced during vehicle inspections.

“I felt that something was not right. Why not report this? ” Kirk, who was fired from his DSP in May, said in an interview. “If this is not supposed to be in service, why am I still driving it?”

Kirk’s former employer, FAE Distributors, could not be reached for comment.

‘There goes your route’

Once drivers point out a problem during inspections, Amazon requires DSP companies to “ground” the vehicle or take it out of service for repair.

Drivers say managers avoid grounding vehicles because they don’t want to give up delivery routes. For example, if a DSP is forced to ground three vans for repairs, they may not have enough replacement vans in their fleet to handle all of the delivery routes Amazon assigned to them that day.

Losing a delivery route can cost a DSP.

Amazon pays contracted delivery companies for each package delivered each week and for each delivery route they collect, according to drivers and a former DSP owner, who asked to remain anonymous because they are still in the logistics business.

The former DSP owner said they tried to fix the vehicle’s problems as quickly as possible, but would tell drivers not to flag the problems in the Flex app to avoid grounding the trucks and “leaving routes.”

Leaving a route not only hurts DSPs financially, it can also affect the score Amazon assigns them. Amazon ranks delivery partners on a scale from “Poor” to “Fantastic +”, taking into account things like delivery performance. If a DSP’s ranking drops, you may lose bonus payments or receive worse routes in the future.

“The side door could be broken, the front door could be broken and you are not supposed to report it because they will land the vehicle,” said an Indiana driver. “And then there goes your route.”

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