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Aug. 1, 2021

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Amazon delivery drivers are injured more often than the company’s warehouse workers

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Drivers for the hundreds of Amazon delivery contractors in the U.S. ferrying packages to customers’ doorsteps sustain injuries at higher rates than any other link in the commerce giant’s logistics chain, according to a new report from a national labor organization.

Amazon’s contract delivery drivers are also hurt at higher rates than competitor UPS, according to the report, from the Strategic Organizing Center. The labor union coalition analyzed injury data collected by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The report’s findings represent the most detailed look yet at injuries sustained by workers tasked with the crucial “last mile” of Amazon delivery. An investigation last year by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that injuries at Amazon warehouses are double the industry average, but delivery drivers were not included in that count.

The new data shows that last year, Amazon’s contract delivery drivers got hurt at nearly double the rate of the company’s fulfillment center employees. Warehouse workers in delivery stations — smaller facilities built closer to population centers that enable one-day and same-day shipping — are also injured more often than fulfillment center workers.

Taking into account delivery driver injuries as well as the nearly 27,000 injuries at Amazon warehouses last year, “Amazon is now one of the companies most responsible for workplace injuries in the U.S.,” said Eric Frumin, the Strategic Organizing Center’s health and safety director. “What’s really stunning is how irresponsible the company appears to be, in a literal sense. They’re not willing to take responsibility for these injuries.”

Amazon’s drivers are also injured more often — and more seriously — than drivers for UPS, the data shows. Last year, Amazon drivers sustained 13.3 injuries for every 100 workers, compared to UPS’ 9 injuries per 100 workers. Amazon drivers were also nearly three times more likely than UPS drivers to suffer injuries serious enough to require time off work.

Amazon’s relentless pace is at the heart of high injury rates in the company’s warehouses, Washington’s workplace safety regulator concluded last month after an inspection of Amazon’s DuPont, Pierce County, warehouse.

The Washington regulator found a “direct connection” between injuries and Amazon’s expectation that employees “maintain a very high pace of work” or else face discipline.

Amazon, which did not respond to questions for this story, has appealed the finding. The company has said it takes ample steps to protect workers, including by instituting a new safety program it says will help bring down injury rates by half within the next four years. On Tuesday, Amazon also tweaked one of the systems it uses to monitor warehouse workers’ productivity.

The strenuous pace of package delivery — and the punishment meted out to those who fall behind — is harming Amazon’s contract drivers and others on the road, according to drivers, media reports and lawsuits.

Amazon’s network of delivery contractors, which the company calls delivery service partners, has been plagued for years by reports of traffic fatalities and wage theft. Drivers in nearly a dozen states have sued Amazon and its contractors for pressuring them to work through legally mandated breaks. Oftentimes, drivers say, their workload is so heavy that they can’t pull over to relieve themselves.

Amazon tracks drivers’ productivity and disciplines those who fail to meet delivery targets. Drivers are also scored on how well they adhere to road safety standards: Amazon’s latest monitoring measures involve installing always-on cameras equipped with software that detects unsafe driving behavior.

“During the pandemic, we were doing 400-plus packages a day,” former Everett-area Amazon delivery driver and dispatcher John Bruglio said. If drivers didn’t finish their routes, he said, they were pulled from the schedule.

Several years ago, Bruglio said he strained his back carrying heavy packages up apartment stairs. He never learned exactly what his injury was, he said, because he didn’t have health insurance. Even if he’d been insured, he couldn’t have afforded to take time off: His employer, Genesis Delivery, didn’t offer paid leave for doctor visits. Instead, he said, he worked through the pain.

Another former Seattle-area driver, who asked to remain unnamed because his current employer has not authorized him to speak to the media, said he also made the decision to continue working after a heavy van door slammed shut on his knee.

His employer, Progistics, “said I could take a day and go to the doctor, but I wouldn’t get paid,” the driver said. “That’s not really an option when you’re $20,000 in student loan debt and living in an apartment that costs $800 a month. Half my income was accounted for before I could even buy a meal … and medical bills are pretty much not feasible at that point either.”

Progistics CEO Joel Ritch did not respond to questions. Mike Buckley, the owner of Genesis, which dissolved last year, declined to comment. Both firms are among eight Amazon delivery providers in Washington state named in a class-action wage theft settlement announced in March.

“Amazon cares more about the package and the customer than how it gets there,” Bruglio said. His colleagues, he said, were “exhausted. They’re getting hurt, they’re having to work hurt, and if you don’t like it, you’re fired.”

Amazon’s decision to contract with third parties to undertake some of the company’s most dangerous work has shielded the company from some costs and liabilities associated with driver injuries and auto crashes. Between 2015 and 2019, Amazon’s contract delivery drivers were involved in at least 60 crashes resulting in serious injuries, including 10 deaths, an investigation by ProPublica found. Amazon largely avoided paying legal and medical bills in those cases, The New York Times reported.

Amazon’s near-total control over delivery contractors, though, opens a door for state and federal regulators and lawmakers to hold the Seattle company accountable for drivers’ injuries, Frumin said.

Workplace-safety regulators have the authority to cite one employer for the dangers to a different company’s employees, if the first employer is judged to be the one responsible for creating the hazard, Washington Labor and Industries spokesperson Tim Church confirmed.

“Most often we have used this statute when citing employers in the construction industry as general contractors are in control over the entire construction project regardless of who the employee works for,” Church said in an email.

Amazon’s rules govern everything from drivers’ social media presence and body odor to how many packages they’re expected to deliver and in which order. Drivers wear Amazon uniforms, drive vans with the Amazon logo and are directed on their route by Amazon’s proprietary mapping software.

Church declined to comment on whether the agency is considering opening an investigation into injuries among Amazon’s delivery contractors. Washington Labor and Industries has previously cited three Amazon delivery contractors for safety violations, most recently in 2019. None of those citations carried fines.

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