The robots have spoken. Loudly. And apparently, they are not making some people happy. According to a Bloomberg report, Amazon is using bots to hire, as well as fire, many of their delivery drivers. To ensure they meet their same-day delivery mantra, Amazon created their Flex delivery program in 2015. They use millions of drivers across the world, making sure deliveries reach their customers on time.
Flex drivers use an app to sign up and they are then allowed to choose their shifts, coordinate their deliveries, and also report any problems they may face in a given shift. This technology, though, doesn’t end with just that. The technology employed by Amazon also monitors the Flex driver’s performances via an algorithm that, unfortunately, has the ability to fire drivers as well.
The rating system created goes by four ranges – Fantastic, Great, Fair, and At Risk. This system has also seemingly fired drivers without any good cause. One Flex delivery driver explained that her rating fell based on the fact that she had a nail in her tire, forcing her to stop her deliveries. She was able to raise her rating back up to “Great”, but she was ultimately fired for what she says was violating Amazon’s terms of service. The driver contested her firing, but Amazon would not rehire her.
Then there was the 63-year-old Army vet Stephen Normandin who has spent the past four years of his life running around as a Flex driver for Amazon. While he knew he was doing a great job delivering packages, Amazon’s algorithm decided differently. He found that out through an email.
“I’m an old-school kind of guy, and I give every job 110%,” he said via Bloomberg. “This really upset me because we’re talking about my reputation. They say I didn’t do the job when I know damn well I did.” Normandin, as well as the many others fired by the bots in charge, say that the algorithms don’t take into account the many issues facing drivers, such as locked apartment complexes, or Amazon lockers failing to open. Real-world challenges are simply not factored into the bots’ thought process.
As for recourse, that is also hard to stomach. If a driver feels they have been wrongly fired, their recourse is to dispute their termination at the cost of $200. Many feel the cost is not worth the hassle as it is basically “you against the machine.”
Amazon understood clearly what they were in for when they began their Flex program and delegating most of their work to machines. They understood the risk, knowing the hits they’d take with mistakes and bad headlines, but in the end, Amazon felt it was the cheaper way to go by using algorithms and bots over having to pay real live people to investigate mistaken firings.
Amazon’s ability to hire drivers virtually at will is what they lean on to back their decision. So far, Amazon has globally hired some 4 million drivers through their app, including nearly 2.9 million in the United States. Just this year alone, the numbers are up 21% from this time last year.
The numbers, though, don’t necessarily make for a happy workplace. One former engineer who helped design the algorithm said Amazon knew the system wasn’t going to be favorable. “Executives knew this was gonna shit the bed,” the former exec said via Bloomberg. “That’s actually how they put it in meetings. The only question was how much poo we wanted there to be.”
Amazon spokeswomen Kate Kudrna said in a statement that driver’s claims of poor treatment are rare, comparatively, and that she feels they don’t represent the majority of the Flex drivers. “We have invested heavily in technology and resources to provide drivers visibility into their standing and eligibility to continue delivering, and investigate all driver appeals,” Kudrna said. This is only one of the many issues Amazon has been dealing with.
This brings us back to that waste of $200. Ryan Cope had his account terminated in 2019. He told Bloomberg there was simply no reason to dispute the firing because he knew early on he would never be able to meet the demands of the Amazon algorithm. “Whenever there’s an issue, there’s no support,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s you against the machine, so you don’t even try.”
Another former employee chimed in. “Amazon doesn’t care. They know most people will get their packages and the 2 or 3 percent who don’t will get something eventually.” The rare times an actual human gets involved in a dispute it is often done in slipshod fashion because they too have performance standards to meet. The bots are taking over and Amazon is leading the charge. Thankfully forewarned is forearmed.