BEIJING, March 26 (Reuters) – One day last week, Joseph Alvarado delivered to Amazon in Orange County, California, when he stopped 153 stops and touched the inside and outside of his van, Reuters More than 225 parcels were delivered and dozens of customers’ homes were knocked on.
The global pandemic of the new coronavirus has infected about 420,000 people and killed nearly 19,000. Delivery drivers like Alvarado have become as indispensable as first responders, providing food and other basic necessities to millions of people under government home isolation orders. But unlike traditional first responders, delivery drivers often have little or no health insurance, sick pay or job security. Many say they don’t even know much about the basics needed for job security.
Alvarado said the van he drove had not been cleaned before or after his 10-hour shift, nor had the parcel boxes touched by warehouse workers and delivery drivers. However, the company he works for does not provide gloves or masks, only occasionally a little hand sanitizer. Alvarado and other drivers said they had little time to stop and wash their hands under pressure from delivery speeds and capacity targets.
“I had to be exposed to the virus,” said Alvarado, 38. “He’s been delivering Amazon packages for three years, ” and I think big companies like Amazon should try to take care of their employees. “
But in fact, Alvarado doesn’t work for Amazon. His company is Pacific Keys Logistics LLC, one of hundreds of companies around the world that have signed delivery contracts with Amazon. The logistics company could not be reached for comment.
In order to keep their jobs, these contractors must meet Amazon’s strict performance standards and, under the compensation package, must keep costs under strict control. Often, delivering Amazon packages is all they have.
This employment arrangement exempts Amazon and other companies from liability to employees, health insurance costs and other benefits. This business model is also widely used by new app-based courier companies such as Instacart, Shipt Inc and Postmates. This model has proved popular with investors because it allows companies to avoid trivial costs such as car repairs and crash compensation.
David Weil, dean of the School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and a former senior Labor Department official in the Obama administration, said the new coronavirus epidemic exposed the dangerous environment these workers face every day. They take greater risks in delivering the necessities of life.
“We’re seeing millions of workers who are not getting the protection they deserve, and they’re now on the front line of delivering food and parcels, and the outbreak has exposed their vulnerability,” he said. “
Amazon says contract drivers who deliver their goods in the U.S. get a starting salary of $15 an hour. In a written response to a Reuters question, Amazon said it asked its courier contractors to provide health insurance, but did not specify how much they would pay, if they did.
Some drivers say they choose not to take out health insurance because they can’t afford the high out-of-pocket costs. Amazon says it requires contractors to offer drivers a certain amount of paid leave, but doesn’t say whether they guarantee that their sick leave will also be paid. The company also has a project called Amazon Flex, in which independent contractors have a time period to deliver groceries or parcels to customers’ doorsteps in their cars.
Amazon said it was taking “extreme measures” to protect all employees, including contractors. These efforts include “increasing cleaning efforts, purchasing safety supplies, and changing delivery processes to ensure a safe distance between delivery personnel and customers.”
In addition, Amazon will offer hand sanitizer and wipes to its contracted courier companies to allow drivers to clean their vehicles. Asked if drivers already had such supplies, the company said some delivery locations “may occasionally experience temporary shortages of supplies.”
App-based distribution companies have partnered with big retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger Co and Target. Instacart and Shipt do not offer sick pay to drivers, but both say they will provide two weeks’ financial assistance to drivers who tested positive for COVID-19 or are therefore quarantined by the health department.
Reuters interviewed more than a dozen delivery drivers at companies such as Amazon, Instagram, Postmates and Uber Eats, many of whom believe the companies are not providing them with adequate protection or support.
Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at the University of Birmingham’s School of Public Health, says the lack of sick pay and disinfectants can also put consumers at risk, especially if drivers take sick to work or can’t wash their hands frequently.
“Access to the door, the doorknob, carries a potential risk, and hand sanitizer alone is not enough,” she said. “
Despite the risks, many drivers are unable to give up their jobs as the economy collapses, with rising daily deaths, massive business closures and the government’s “home” policies. As the crisis intensified last week, Amazon announced plans to hire 100,000 new employees to cope with soaring demand. But those jobs are likely to be filled by large numbers of laid-off workers in other hard-hit industries, such as the restaurant industry, because Amazon is one of the few companies still hiring new workers. In response to the outbreak, the company temporarily raised the hourly wage spending of warehouse workers and contractors by $2, but the pay increase will end by the end of April.
“It’s very sad because three weeks ago, ” says Matthew Bidwell, a professor of zero-work studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. We are in one of the most intense labour markets in history. This is the first time in a long time that employers have been forced to provide workers with more benefits and benefits. In the future, they will no longer have this kind of pressure. “
Orange County’s Danny Gonzalez, who is also delivering to Amazon, had his hands blacked out by dirt after a long shift.
Gonzalez, 33, asked, “Where can you wash your hands when you’re in the car?” “
The dispatcher who enforces Amazon’s standarduses uses GPS technology to track his whereabouts, sometimes questioning how long he spends at the station. In fact, he says, delivery drivers don’t have time to wash their hands, and he even gives up his lunch break to fulfill the requirements.
“You can’t finish the 280-pack line Amazon wants you to complete in eight or nine hours, we’re just Amazon’s statistics,” he said. “
Hiring his Amazon contractor would give employees the option to buy health insurance, but Gonzalez said he didn’t accept it because the fees would cost him nearly half of his salary. Neither Gonzalez nor Alvarado has paid sick leave.
treated like a leprosy patient.
After the outbreak, Amazon announced it would set aside $25 million to provide up to two weeks of paid leave, which it would allow delivery drivers to apply if they were diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined by the government. Other companies, such as Uber, Postmates, Instacart and DoorDash, have made similar commitments to help employees.
But drivers say complex standards make it difficult for them to get the money. Jonathan Perales, 25, an Uber driver in Texas, began coughing and getting a fever earlier this month after picking up a sick passenger. The hospital said he had SYMPTOMs of COVID-19, but refused to test him for the virus because of a lack of testing kits nationwide.
When he applied to Uber for sick pay, the company told him he needed a positive new coronavirus test report, or an isolation document from a medical professional. No one in the hospital or state health department wanted to submit such documents to Uber on his behalf, and even when he developed symptoms of the new coronavirus, a clinic refused to examine him.
“I’m in a difficult situation, I’m trying to get tested and get financial aid,” Perales said. But I was treated like a leprosy patient. “
Despite his illness, he still needed income to avoid deportation, so he continued to work for Postmates for two days. He said that after he reported the symptoms, Uber closed his account, leaving him unable to pay his housing bill and stay in his car. Uber declined to comment on the Perales case, but said in a statement that the safety of drivers “has always been our top priority.” Postmates also declined to comment.
Drive 45km just for hand sanitizer
Ron Spiegelman delivers to Instacart. He said the company had neither provided training nor hygiene or protective equipment. Recently, he drove 45 miles to the countryside near Tulsa, Oklahoma, just to buy hand sanitizer in a one-dollar store.
“Allowing drivers to wash their hands will not only make us feel safer, but also customers,” he said. “
Instacart said in a statement that it would distribute hand sanitizer to employees and provide cleaning supplies in some stores. The company plans to add an additional 300,000 independent delivery drivers to cope with the surge in demand.
As the crisis intensified, some drivers stopped delivering. Laura Chelton, 48, drove to Amazon Flex in the Seattle area, the site of the first outbreak in the United States. Last week, she noticed that there was no one in whole Foods’ ordering area, where her order was picked up. When she saw an old woman coughing when she sorted out her shopping bag in a small space, she felt it was not worth the risk to deliver groceries.