On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
Amazon delivery drivers are sacrificing their own safety and delivering packages later into the night, sometimes until 10 or 11 p.m., in order to meet a surge in demand around the holiday season.
Amazon’s peak season, the stretch between Black Friday and Christmas, exacerbates existing issues for delivery drivers by making workloads longer and later during the shortest days of the year. Multiple Amazon delivery drivers told Motherboard that they’d seen their route stops shoot up significantly since Black Friday and shifts now extend three to five hours later than usual.
“Normally before peak, you would get off at 6 p.m. and be home by 7 p.m.,” Fletcher, an Amazon delivery driver in Maryland, told Motherboard. Fletcher asked to be identified by his first name only because he feared retaliation from his employer. “After peak starts, sometimes you’re not getting off until 9 or 10 p.m., not getting home until 11 p.m.”
The increased quotas have pushed drivers to sacrifice their safety, multiple delivery drivers told Motherboard. “There are tons of things we do to avoid safety requirements [and increase efficiency during peak season]. I’d say that 80 to 90 percent of us don’t wear seatbelts,” Clinton Parker, an Amazon delivery driver in Georgia, said.
Parker noted Amazon delivery drivers buckle seat belts behind them, skip rest and lunch breaks, and mark that packages have been delivered directly into customers’ hands when they hadn’t (rather than walk all the way to a customers’ door to deliver a package and take a photo, as Amazon requires for contactless deliveries).
“Some drivers run their entire routes and buckle their seat belts behind them so they won’t have seat belt infractions” from Amazon’s safety app, another delivery driver in Maryland said. “It’s a lot of getting around safety measures that Amazon has put in place. When package counts were lower, it was easier to not have to circumvent those safety things.”
The combination of a new warehouse schedule that prioritizes faster deliveries, peak season quota increases, and dwindling daylight hours has Amazon delivery drivers working for hours in darkness on the shortest days of the year.
For many drivers, this is a nightmare. Motherboard spoke to six Amazon delivery drivers, an Amazon training manager, and three owners of Amazon delivery companies who said that delivery packages in the darkness of night puts drivers at increased risk of accidents, injuries, and run-ins with hostile customers. It also slows down their work significantly, as delivery drivers search for unmarked addresses and unilluminated houses in the dark.
“I would say working at night has caused a lot of problems,” Fletcher, the Amazon delivery driver in Maryland, said. “As it gets darker out, people don’t have house numbers lit up or don’t have a porchlight and it becomes progressively harder to find houses. We have to use personal phones to find houses at night. We’re delivering in rural areas a lot of time and people have had guns pulled on them. In lots of situations, you have to make your presence known.”
As a point of comparison UPS delivers until 7 p.m., FedEx delivers until 8 p.m., and the US Postal Service rarely delivers at night.
“If Amazon cared about our safety they’d let us start earlier in the day,” an Amazon delivery driver in Appleton, Wisconsin told Motherboard. “When it gets darker, it gets colder, there’s more ice, and you can’t see the ice because it’s dark.”
The driver works in a part of Wisconsin where the sun goes down just a few minutes after 4 p.m. in December. He told Motherboard that he often doesn’t start delivery packages until 1 p.m., and often spends the majority of his shift delivering in darkness during the winter.
“The early darkness in the evening puts drivers at risk not just on the road but during deliveries, especially female and [people of color] drivers in rural areas,” a program manager for Amazon’s delivery service partner program wrote to Motherboard. “When your job requires you to walk on to someone’s property after dark there are dangers there and Amazon is doing very little to support DSPs in dealing with this.”
Amazon delivery drivers used to finish their shifts in the early evening. But over the course of the past year, Amazon has rolled out a 10-and-a-half hour graveyard shift at its last-mile delivery stations, originally known as the “megacycle,” but that Amazon has since renamed the “single cycle.” This longer, later shift begins around 1am and ends near lunchtime, and the schedule has allowed Amazon to deliver packages more quickly. Amazon quickly rebranded the megacycle to “single cycle” after Amazon faced backlash from its delivery companies for the shift. As Motherboard reported earlier this year, megacycle has upended the lives of many warehouse workers with childcare and other daytime responsibilities.
Amazon delivery drivers used to begin their shifts around 5 or 6 am. Now, instead of finishing in the early evening, Amazon delivery drivers finish as late as 9, 10, or 11 p.m. at night at the many Amazon warehouses that follow the megacycle shift.
“The move to single cycle was billed as an improvement for customers with faster delivery turnaround and an improvement for [Amazon’s delivery service companies],” the program manager for Amazon’s delivery service partner program wrote. “But that isn’t really what it did…The late in the day routes have drivers out on the road after dark and in rural areas it can be very risky for a Black person on a woman to be pulling up to a completely dark property where the residents likely has guns and try to walk up on the porch to deliver a package.”
Motherboard previously interviewed Black and Brown Amazon delivery drivers who have had customers yell racial slurs at them, call the police on them, point guns at them, and sic dogs after them.
“Most people don’t have reflective numbers on their homes,” Parker said. “We can’t see nothing out here, especially the older people we got working. It makes it so that you only move half as fast. If you’re in an area with high crime, that’s pretty concerning. I could say for me personally it makes life hell.”
The owner of an Amazon delivery company in the Midwest posted in March on an internal Amazon messaging board, “We are giving up 2-5 hours of daylight because of [megacycle]….When we went to the 10 p.m. as latest delivery, I was vocal about the safety of my [drivers.] Especially with rural routes…There are many areas where we deliver where [drivers] we’re greeted with guns because it was after 9 p.m. and they went on someone’s property.”
These shifts that extend into the night have also made it harder for Amazon delivery drivers to fulfill childcare needs, spend time with their families, and maintain their social lives.
“We switched to this schedule in May. And now my drivers don’t get home until 9 p.m. at night,” the owner of an Amazon delivery station in Virginia told Motherboard. “People don’t want to work at night. If you’ve got kids, you kiss your kid in the morning and say see you tomorrow morning, because you’re driving at night. You won’t be able to see them until the next day, if you even get up in time. You don’t see UPS that late out on the streets, but Amazon is sold on the idea that customers want their package as quickly as possible.”
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Some drivers told Motherboard that another shift, known as “cycle zero,” specifically for peak season, has also rolled out at certain warehouses. That warehouse shift allows drivers to begin around 6 a.m. and runs roughly 10 hours, giving them more hours to deliver in daylight.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.