Amazon’s Next-Day Delivery System Has Brought Chaos And Carnage
August 31, 2019 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Deaths and devastating injuries. A litany of labor violations. Drivers forced to urinate in their vans. Here is how Amazon’s gigantic, decentralized, next-day delivery network brought chaos, exploitation, and danger to communities across America.
posted by Ahmad Khani (88 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not only chaos, exploitation and danger, but also inefficiency. I sat on a porch in New Jersey last weekend and watched as Amazon Van #1 delivered a package to the house across the street. Ten minutes later, Amazon Van #2 pulled up, and delivered two more packages to the same house.
posted by beagle at 9:42 AM on August 31, 2019 [14 favorites]


don't forget increased congestion and increased particle and co2 emissions
posted by entropicamericana at 9:44 AM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


The hilarious thing about the inefficiency is that I heavily suspect they could get a whole lot more people to go for their "amazon day" initiative if they were willing to offer an incentive that people actually gave a shit about, or changed the shipping price incentivizations for Prime to insist that packages be grouped together, or something.

But no, it's always shitty $5 off coupons for Prime Now which can't be lumped together, putting more incentive on customers to either go for "no, gimme the thing right now, fuck delayed gratification" or to get even more instant-gratification heavy, thereby stressing the shipping services even more.

I imagine this is part of a marketing strategy, but it seems well designed to exploit and hurt the people who are supposed to actually execute this thing. Nasty company, and in certain ways almost the epitome of penny wise and pound foolish. But then, that's late-stage capitalism for you.
posted by sciatrix at 9:54 AM on August 31, 2019 [24 favorites]




I recently had to listen to an acquaintance complain that she knows Amazon is bad, but like, no one else could deliver Halloween cat costumes within 24 hours

Revolution, you can come any day now, I'm ready
posted by captain afab at 10:03 AM on August 31, 2019 [43 favorites]


don't forget increased congestion and increased particle and co2 emissions

One or two delivery trucks cruising the neighborhood is better than 100 people driving to the shopping mall.

This is not a comment on Amazon's labor practices.
posted by JackFlash at 10:08 AM on August 31, 2019 [44 favorites]


The cost that we should be focusing on is the human cost, in terms of drivers and the people they occasionally kill. The demand for cheap shit fast is so great that Amazon can turn a knob and ruin lives in the name of profits and conveeeeeeeeeeeenience and then deny any responsibility whatsoever.

Fuck Amazon. Fuck them, fuck them, fuck them.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:13 AM on August 31, 2019 [12 favorites]


One or two delivery trucks cruising the neighborhood is better than 100 people driving to the shopping mall.

That’s not the choice here, though. The choice getting your Amazon order delivered in a couple of days (via USPS, UPS, etc. which are already on the road anyway) vs. Amazon putting many additional vehicles on the road racing all over the place just to make same/next day deliveries.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:15 AM on August 31, 2019 [36 favorites]


That’s not the choice here, though. The choice getting your Amazon order delivered in a couple of days (via USPS, UPS, etc. which are already on the road anyway) vs. Amazon putting many additional vehicles on the road racing all over the place just to make same/next day deliveries.

It is the choice if not getting your stuff in one day causes you to drive to the shopping mall instead.
posted by JackFlash at 10:17 AM on August 31, 2019 [14 favorites]


Is it me, so is the future of the tech economy dependent on the idea we'll all stop leaving our houses (and if we do, we'll be safely shuttled to other locations in late model mid-range cars?)
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:26 AM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


I dunno, I'd estimate that of the people I know who use same-day delivery, if they couldn't get same-day delivery, they'd go for slower delivery about 85% of the time, and only 15% of time would someone actually get up and go to a physical store to get the item that same day.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:28 AM on August 31, 2019 [15 favorites]


One or two delivery trucks cruising the neighborhood is better than 100 people driving to the shopping mall.

Not to mention the fact that many heavy users of Amazon live in cities and don't own cars.
posted by Automocar at 10:29 AM on August 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


if they couldn't get same-day delivery, they'd go for slower delivery about 85% of the time,

One-day or three-day delivery, it doesn't change the argument. It is still better for the environment to have home delivery than to have individual shoppers going to the store.

UPS and FedEx drive past my house every day. So does Amazon. So does the postman.
posted by JackFlash at 10:36 AM on August 31, 2019 [11 favorites]


It is still better for the environment to have home delivery than to have individual shoppers going to the store.

Like across the board, even if someone lives in a city with a good public transport system? Or stops by a store on their daily commute to and from work?

Because the latter is kind of what i've been doing more of lately to try to cut down on everything: online orders, buying stuff, car mileage, etc.
posted by FJT at 10:38 AM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


...Also not to mention that many heavy users of Amazon live in (or outside of) small rural towns with very long drives to large city stores.
posted by cenoxo at 10:42 AM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


Or stops by a store on their daily commute to and from work?

Of course this is better than making extra trips to a store.

But stores themselves are environmentally inefficient. You have all of these big air-conditioned, lighted spaces, designed to be attractive to shoppers and lots of trucks that have to deliver from warehouses to these individual stores. It is more efficient to eliminate the middleman and all of its energy upkeep and instead deliver to customers directly from the warehouse.
posted by JackFlash at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]



One-day or three-day delivery, it doesn't change the argument. It is still better for the environment to have home delivery than to have individual shoppers going to the store.


A bit of hard evidence would really be useful here.
posted by klanawa at 10:58 AM on August 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


...Also not to mention that many heavy users of Amazon live in (or outside of) small rural towns with very long drives to large city stores.

Or even in the suburbs. I once was trying to find a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable on short notice because of my own short sightedness. 18 mile round trip. For a stupid cable.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 10:59 AM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]


For 9 months of the year, I live in a city, where I don't drive and therefore anything bulky or heavy gets delivered. For the other 3 months, I'm a 45 minute minimum drive to the nearest store that sells more than a tiny selection of tourist-targeted merchandise.

I've started avoiding Amazon wherever I can. It was hard at first, but now I've gotten used to things taking longer, and not having to sift through fake or low quality search results. We lived without one day delivery before; we can do it again.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:00 AM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


I can tell how stressed the delivery people are by how many errors they make. We have "side porch" on our address and a sign on the front door to not leave packages there and USPS/UPS/FedEx all can handle that but Amazon people drop the thing off on the front stoop at least half the time. Amazon is obviously paying them by piece and not by accuracy. We also get other people's packages fairly often.
posted by octothorpe at 11:04 AM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


Long Haul Truck drivers would like a word.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 11:07 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sorry about the derail but the first two comments were about the environmental impacts of home delivery. The original post was about the business practices of Amazon.

Home delivery is environmentally sound. The question is whether customers are willing to pay for home delivery to save the environment and at the same time pay enough to make it safe for laborers. As with many environmental issues, people say they want to save the environment but are unwilling to pay for it.
posted by JackFlash at 11:09 AM on August 31, 2019 [11 favorites]


And yet, Buzzfeed is willing to push their Amazon affiliate links In a piece about new books. Buzzfeed is trashy.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:10 AM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm willing to pay for things when I'm given the option to do so. A lot of these services are artificially cheap in a way that's detrimental to both the consumer and and the person ultimately doing the work.

When I'm out late in the city I often will try to get a Lyft to take me home since I'm tired and it's a bit late for me to want to deal with public transit. The prices are so artificially low that the drivers aren't incentivized to actually want to take a fare. I'd pay 50% more for what is essentially a luxury service but the app won't charge me enough so I'm stuck with two drivers cancelling before one of them eventually is willing to take the fare.

Prime is essentially a luxury service and I'd pay more for drivers that aren't overworked who will actually deliver things to the proper address during the time periods specified. Before I worked from home I'd have things shipped to my wife's shop that has very specific opening hours but prime seems to think everything is a residence. My options were to have it delivered to my house where someone could probably eventually get it if it wasn't stolen off the porch, or have it delivered to the shop where they'd ignore delivery hours and text me when nobody was there to get it.

Charge me more to have the thing delivered by someone who isn't worked to death, during a liberal range of specified hours. I'm willing to pay it.

Most of what I order from Amazon are very specific things that aren't available in stores so going out to get the items is a non starter.
posted by mikesch at 11:18 AM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


> Delivering packages for Amazon can itself be a perilous job. Drivers have reportedly been punched, bitten, carjacked, robbed, and shot — and at least two have died in recent years as a result of road accidents that occurred on the job.

USPS carriers at least are explicitly protected by federal law. How do FedEx and UPS compare for driver safety?
posted by reductiondesign at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


Home delivery is environmentally sound.

Again, if it's so easy to make this blanket statement, it should be easy to back it up. I'm not saying you're wrong but I suspect that which side you come down on depends on the particular circumstances and which costs you chose to externalize. If yours is an evidence-based position, by all means back it up. If it isn't, just say so.
posted by klanawa at 11:28 AM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]


Amazon’s fault the nth: it looks like you can specify USPS delivery when purchasing, but you can’t. And they’re bewildered when you complain about this even though your package got there faster than USPS promised.

What’s happening in other countries?
posted by clew at 11:31 AM on August 31, 2019


I shouldn't be surprised but the abuses amazingly mirror the labour abuses of a 100 years ago which lead to unions and collective action. It's obvious all these little drivers and workers need a union and I hope the capitalists haven't finally managed to lock that kind of activity out.
posted by Mitheral at 11:39 AM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


if it's so easy to make this blanket statement, it should be easy to back it up.

You can use your own two eyes. Look out your window to the street. Which is more environmentally sound -- one or two delivery trucks driving down your street once a day or dozens of cars driving to the mall? Which creates more congestion?

Or another example. Which is more environmentally sound -- the postman who comes to your house everyday or you and all your neighbors driving to the post office to pick up your mail?

This ain't rocket science.
posted by JackFlash at 11:40 AM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'd like to push back on the idea that labor issues are the primary problem with Amazon-style home delivery because it relies on two ideas that I think are demonstrably false [ET clarify - that is, the idea that Amazon delivery isn't an environmental problem in itself]:

First, that prior to Amazon everyone drove to the mall every time they needed a nickel thing. I grew up in a lower middle class family pre-Amazon. If we found that we needed a small thing, we either purchased the thing when we'd be passing the store anyway - if that happened regularly - or we made a big trip to take care of multiple errands at once. Trips to the mall were actually pretty rare, and they were almost never made for a single purchase. What's new now is the just-in-time life where we're used to the idea that if we need a nickel gadget, we can and should get it ASAP.

Second, that prior to Amazon we all bought roughly the same kind of stuff at the same frequency as we do now. Take Halloween - when I was a kid, Halloween was a big deal, a huge deal. But very few people bought costumes or had entirely new costumes every year, and no one bought costumes for themselves, their pets and their baby. Halloween accessories and decor were rarer and tended to be re-used year to year. This wasn't because we were all incredibly virtuous - it was because trade agreements, the fall of the USSR and the general economy of shit were still in the future, and those things basically were not available. I grew up in the eighties and nineties, no minimalist phase in American life - and we consume so much more now. Our whole culture is geared to the idea that you always need new things, partly for cultural reasons and partly because the old things fall apart.

And I've just thought of a third: Before big box stores and Amazon, there very often was, eg, a pretty decent hardware store, or a dress shop, or a bookstore, or a gift shop or an office supply store right there in your town. Now, if you needed specialty stuff you might be out of luck - but again, when I was a child and a teen, I did a lot of my shopping in my suburb. Up through the mid-nineties, there were even a couple of small clothing shops aimed at teens and young women, and I bought my Giant Esprit-Brand Tote Bag and a couple of acid wash sweaters there. And old fashioned mail order was a lot more reliable in terms of catalogues, measurements and product descriptions. Sure, it wasn't utopia and you did have to wait for things, but it wasn't some nightmare of deprivation - I remember very well when I saved up for a pair of real Doctor Martens boots and ordered them from a company which advertised in Spin magazine. It was a two week wait, but they arrived via USPS as advertised and they were made by adequately insured and compensated workers in Northampton, UK.

The life of heavy, rapid-fire consumption that we live now isn't the natural end state of humans - it was produced by trade agreements, financial policy and law more than by culture, and it did not replace some squalid, thingless nightmare of constant, polluting travel to the mall.
posted by Frowner at 11:47 AM on August 31, 2019 [75 favorites]


How do you prevent scabs when every job is a gig contacted in 15 minute intervals, easily accessible via an app with comically light background checks? Barring top down government changes, I'm not sure how strikes work for the gig economy.
posted by ikea_femme at 11:50 AM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


Which is more environmentally sound -- one or two delivery trucks driving down your street once a day or dozens of cars driving to the mall? Which creates more congestion?

But, as Frowner has also pointed out, that’s likely not an accurate framing here. If Amazon ceased to exist, that doesn’t mean every neighbor or even most of them would be taking a full round-trip car journey to the store to purchase the item. Some would go without, some would grab it during their weekly visit to the grocery store where they’d go either way, some would take a stroll to the library and check out a book instead, some would write it down for the next time they went to the mall, and some proportion would head out the door immediately to make a trip. We just don’t know (unless someone knows of existing research on this question).
posted by sallybrown at 11:56 AM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


If yours is an evidence-based position, by all means back it up. If it isn't, just say so.

Found this. Overall: online ordering is better for the environment and in the ideal scenario (like Your Childhood Pet Rock’s above) almost 24x more efficient. In practice the margins are much more narrow than that, and same day delivery ordering potentially triples your carbon footprint. UPS/FedEx/Amazon non-same-day-delivery isn’t going to alter carbon footprint to a measurable extent. This is especially true for those of us who live a few miles from a regional Amazon distribution center in a major metro with effectively zero public transport.

As ever: individual actions are not driving the climate crisis, which is in the majority due to seven companies and the legislation they purchase. No good or negative action on your part will affect it one iota. But if you want to do something nice for the environment for your own conscience, then foregoing same-day delivery would be a good start. If you’re near a major Amazon warehouse then in all probability ordering one or two day Prime shipping on the locally stocked items is probably the most ecologically sound option.

If consumers could somehow pressure Amazon into doing a better job of auto-grouping deliveries, or giving impulse shoppers a five-minute edit window for the forgot-one-thing scenario (currently on *all* Prime deliveries where I live this scenario results in logistically separate orders that will often be fulfilled by separate drivers arriving within 20 minutes of each other), that would also help improve the system’s efficiency quite a bit.
posted by Ryvar at 11:58 AM on August 31, 2019 [24 favorites]


Further to the idea of shopping in your town: I recently visited the small midwestern city/large midwestern town where my father grew up. When he was young, it was a well-off town, with a car factory, a candy factory, a clothing company and a bunch of other stuff. There was a Sears or something plus an independent department store downtown and there was lots of retail scattered around the place - you can see the empty buildings today. People would go to the nearest big city a few times a year for the stuff that you didn't get in town.

Was the shopping as good as in the big city? I doubt it. But in terms of the ordinary things that you needed to live a nice life, you could buy them in town. And you could walk to a lot of shopping if you had to, leaving aside buses, cars and bikes. What's more, it was pretty easy to combine trips, because a lot of the people who lived in town worked in town too.

This is not a weird story; it's very common. In the relatively recent past, you could live in a really non-famous town, work there and shop there without living in a shack and eating off a single chipped plate while wearing a feed sack.
posted by Frowner at 11:59 AM on August 31, 2019 [18 favorites]


We just don’t know

But we do know. Next time you are out look at your local shopping mall. There are thousands of cars there. Those thousand cars could be replaced by a couple dozen delivery trucks.
posted by JackFlash at 12:01 PM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


[Hey JackFlash, you've made your same point a number of times now; maybe take a step back for a bit and let the thread breathe.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:14 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


Well, no, there are not thousands of cars there - not at most malls. And you're making the same error in a different direction now: You're assuming that these people are just going to the mall to get some particular thing that they would have ordered online otherwise.

You're not taking into account the different buying patterns that are encouraged by different ways of buying things. Me going to the mall to browse for clothes before the academic year starts is not the same as me ordering a sweatshirt on Amazon; there is more going on than "need thing, go to mall to acquire thing." Me going to the big box store to stock up on household items once a week is not the same as ordering this-or-that as soon as I notice it's almost out.

I believe that deliveries are often more environmentally friendly but you're stuck on this weird idea that there's a one-to-one correspondence between individual trips and delivery trips and I think it's causing this conversation to go in circles.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:16 PM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]


Another question: do people who are not shopping actually stay home, or do they go somewhere else? I assume that people stay home more now with the internet, etc etc, but there are also new kinds of destinations - people go out to eat a lot more than they used to, for instance. Does not needing to shop open up newer, more remote places to live, with longer commutes, like now it's feasible to commute ninety minutes each way because you get everything delivered and don't need to factor in errand time?

I live in a city and I've lived in roughly the same neighborhood for twenty years, ever since school. I've not noticed a dramatic fall in traffic, so at the very least around here it doesn't seem like everyone is staying virtuously off the road because all their food gets brought in.

Then, another question: what about food delivery? I was staying with a friend for a while to help her out, and she got meals delivered three or four times a week. Of course, she also went to the grocery store and went out for meals. What's the net on that? There's the travel to the store, the travel to the restaurants and the delivery travel to the restaurant and to her house.

I mean, it's very difficult to say, "delivery saves the environment" if delivery increases frequency and quantity of purchases, that's what I'm saying.
posted by Frowner at 12:31 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


I grew up in the eighties and nineties, no minimalist phase in American life - and we consume so much more now. Our whole culture is geared to the idea that you always need new things, partly for cultural reasons and partly because the old things fall apart.

This comes up a lot in conversations about degrowth, oh you want everyone to share a spoon and use the same bucket, no we want to get back to the normal consumption patterns* before this insane expendable on demand planned obsolescence culture, before everything came in seven layers of plastic and fell apart after a month. Before every town became a series of side roads about 45 minutes from a Walmart with parking lots the size of a traditional village.

Something like half the plastics currently existing in earth have been made since Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. This is the abnormal era.

* we also want to make the production methods greener or more cyclical and multi use, as well as realizing we overproduce to an insane degree.
posted by The Whelk at 12:33 PM on August 31, 2019 [31 favorites]


turns. out.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:35 PM on August 31, 2019 [12 favorites]


Is it me, so is the future of the tech economy dependent on the idea we'll all stop leaving our houses (and if we do, we'll be safely shuttled to other locations in late model mid-range cars?)

And earn a $1 credit for taking a package inside with you when your self-driving car pulls up to your destination.
posted by Pryde at 12:37 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


...Also not to mention that many heavy users of Amazon live in (or outside of) small rural towns with very long drives to large city stores.

Yes. This. There are so many things I could not get in the town where I live without Amazon. My other option is to make a 2 to 3 hour drive to a larger city.
posted by Annabelle74 at 12:44 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


It is telling that people are driving the conversation away from the human toll of unrestrained consumption and towards the fuzzy math of "delivery is better for teh environment" which may also be true but doesn't absolve anyone of their complicity in the exploitation of these drivers and the old ladies they run over.

Don't. Use. Amazon. Logistics.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:52 PM on August 31, 2019 [18 favorites]


In terms of what is to be done, Jane McAlevey makes a good case on Season Of The Bitch that the situation at Amazon is similar to that of ununionized car factory workers in the 20s who invented the sit down/in strike in order to prevent the extremely available scab market from replacing them.

Logistics is a chokepoint Labor has traditionally exploited: the means of distribution. and of course there is already buddy internal residence to the horrible working conditions
posted by The Whelk at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


So the basic argument, right, is that Amazon is shifting its delivery force away from USPS, which is unionized and heavily regulated, and UPS, which is unionized, to a decentralized fleet of small contractors, whose drivers are required to keep up a pace that is detrimental to their wellbeing and to the safety of other users of the roads. And because they're contracting delivery out to a whole bunch of small companies, it's hard to keep track of how many accidents are being caused by Amazon delivery vehicles, and it's really hard to hold Amazon accountable for labor abuses or accidents, because none of these vehicles or drivers are officially affiliated with Amazon. That all seems like a problem.

I buy things from Amazon sometimes, but I really don't like next-day delivery. (I doubt we'll ever have same-day where I live, because I don't live in a big city.) I don't think there's any way to do cheap same-day and next-day delivery without exploiting people, and in some ways the exploitation seems to be driving the shift to quick delivery, rather than to be a result. Amazon really wants to break its reliance on UPS and the postal service and to build up its own fleet of contracted-out delivery people, and that's driving the shift as much as anything.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:04 PM on August 31, 2019 [14 favorites]


. for Telesfora Escamilla
. for Traivon Hemingway
. for Samuel Cabelus
. for Gabrielle
posted by Tess of the d'Urkelvilles at 1:21 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


Barring top down government changes, I'm not sure how strikes work for the gig economy.

Top down government changes are what California is trying to do with AB5, which would treat these workers as employees.

And there's a bit of a tension there because, yes, obviously, if you spend all day driving a car around delivering Amazon packages, you work for Amazon in a moral sense whether we legally call you an employee or not. And you should be entitled to minimum wage, a safe workplace, breaks, the right to unionize, not having to pay self-employment taxes, reimbursement of expenses, and everything else that goes with being an employee. At the same time, "everyone's an employee except for people in this increasingly long list of exceptions different industries are currently lobbying for" is not a great way to reshape the state's labor laws, but that's ok. And I do think there's a legitimate concern, in terms of enacting what workers feel is best for them, around how overtime and scheduling works for jobs where the employees all pick their own hours.
posted by zachlipton at 1:23 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


Re: not dropping packages off as per instructions. I was briefly chatting with a driver today who told me that their delivery app requires them to demonstrate that they’ve left the package at a specific location (verified by GPS), even though the instructions say something else. They can follow your instructions, but it may take extra work on their part if what you want deviates too far from what Amazon thinks the right location ought to be.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:44 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


From a liability perspective, these drivers should be considered employees of Amazon. Pretending that these tiny companies with no real customers other than Amazon are independent entities just allows Amazon to hide behind a facade of independence.

That said, the hyperbole of "chaos and carnage" is a bit much. "Hundreds" of accidents, 100 lawsuits, and six deaths in five years? Not quite the apocalypse, is it?
posted by factory123 at 1:56 PM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


It isn't like your only two options are getting things from Amazon or going to the store yourself. Companies have been delivering products via USPS, UPS, or FedEx for decades. It means a little more work on the consumer's side to order from individual companies, but it doesn't mean your only other choice is to drive 100 miles to get something you need. Giving up a little convenience to save lives and maybe people's should seems like a good idea to me. Fuck Jeff Bezos and his gazillion dollars that he hoards like Smaug.
posted by ceejaytee at 1:58 PM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


If an "independent" company gets 100% of its business from Amazon, it isn't really independent and Amazon should be fully liable for the people they kill and the workers they injure.

It should be a simple change in liability law.
posted by monotreme at 2:26 PM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


We can and should criticize Amazon and ride-hailing apps and street parking and even plastic straws without disregarding their importance to many people. People's lives are different. Arguing that no one anywhere and ever should order from Amazon feels like an unnecessary demand. As some people have stated in this thread, for rural residents and disabled folks, being able to have multiple different types of items delivered to your home is actually really important.

And there is no innocence in 21st century capitalism. I bought a thing from Walmart.com because I assumed that it kept vertical integration within the company and that would offer a little more protection than Amazon's reliance on contracting out everything and all the responsibility. I don't actually know that for sure. I also use Lyft instead of Uber when I cave and decide to call for a ride, because Uber was worse (and that Travis dude refused responsibility for a little kid's death), but that doesn't absolve Lyft of shittiness either. I want companies to acknowledge responsibility to workers and Amazon's reliance on third party delivery companies is a deliberate way to evade responsibility.

Subcontracting is so very problematic. When I was a college student, the dining hall workers went on strike to protest the university's move to subcontract much of the work. I don't think I really understood what was at risk as an 18 year old.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:31 PM on August 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


You can use your own two eyes.

How very, uh... scientific. That also happens to be the central argument for UFOs and the flat Earth.

Thanks Ryvar.
posted by klanawa at 2:34 PM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


Also I'm an urban planning academic* and the urban effects of the new platform economy and e-commerce are only beginning to be understood. Ride-hailing increased vehicle miles traveled and have increased congestion and decreased public transit usage. E-commerce and same day/two day delivery have also increased congestion. We can make assumptions that a thing will have certain environmental impacts but we don't actually know.

I had heated discussions with folks in SF about the potential decrease in greenhouse gases when Uber gained prominence. Or all those scooter companies scattered scooters across city centers (ok yes my language reveals that I really don't like how companies have happily disregarded city policymaking).

* though not one who studies transportation, I do my best to keep on top of this stuff so I can teach my students.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:38 PM on August 31, 2019 [15 favorites]


A couple of years ago, I read something on Reddit from a man who went to work for Amazon's delivery service after driving for UPS and FedEx. He said that Amazon had next to no safety training compared to UPS and FedEx , which matches with what the article says.

My Amazon packages are still delivered by UPS or the Post Office. I've never seen these contract drivers. But I live in a rural county, so Maybe Amazon can't make the numbers work to beat UPS's logistics in lightly populated areas.
posted by riruro at 3:12 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]




The other thing about the contract Amazon vans is that I'm not a huge fan of every 1099 casual worker with basically no background check having my address. (I also dislike this about places like GrubHub and Instacart -- and with ride-sharing, which I don't use.) These aren't "employees" so what does it matter to amazon or grubhub if the worker later comes back and burgles your house? The whole system is set up to disclaim liability, which means they get to disclaim safety concerns of customers.

And mostly when such delivery people come to my house, they've been very nice, and a disproportionate number are women (compared to UPS and FedEx). But like, I KNOW my USPS carrier, and his substitutes who work when he's on vacation. We chat! I recognize my UPS and FedEx drivers by sight, as they stay on the same route. I can call any of those organizations with a complaint and they take responsibility for it. Those are their employees! (Sure, they may be blowing me off as soon as I hang up, but they're not shrugging their shoulders and saying "third party contractor, sorry." And there's a point of contact and a point of pressure for local governments trying to rein in bad actors, like a UPS driver who kept speeding in a school zone during morning arrival, the mayor's office called, and that stopped right quick.)

I don't know, I am way, way backed off on ordering from amazon, because I do not like it when these vans driven by randos come to my house, and I know amazon doesn't care about anything but how fast they deliver, and I know amazon won't take any responsibility if something awful happens. I've mostly given up other casual contractor businesses for the same reason -- my local pizza shop is delivered by the same six people who all work for the pizzaria and live nearby and that just feels safer than doordash.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:48 PM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


"This comes up a lot in conversations about degrowth, oh you want everyone to share a spoon and use the same bucket, no we want to get back to the normal consumption patterns* before this insane expendable on demand planned obsolescence culture, before everything came in seven layers of plastic and fell apart after a month. Before every town became a series of side roads about 45 minutes from a Walmart with parking lots the size of a traditional village."

What do normal consumption patterns look like and who makes the determination?
posted by Selena777 at 4:02 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


How do you prevent scabs when every job is a gig contacted in 15 minute intervals, easily accessible via an app with comically light background checks? Barring top down government changes, I'm not sure how strikes work for the gig economy.

Picket lines. At least in the case of Amazon they have physical infrastructure to attack in a collective manner. This is a lot harder for something like Uber/Lyft (no impossible, but harder) of course. But in Amazon's case they have a big fat warehouse that you can prevent/delay shipments to and from with a relatively small number of people or delay workers entering. You can also take job action at every delivery (oh dang, my truck towing a 5th wheel _just_ broke down unfortunately while along side an Amazon sub contractor's truck parked at the curb; so sorry, tow truck on it's way, they say sometime in the next hour) reducing efficiency.

People are likely to get arrested. There'll be violence. Hopefully no one is shot but that was a regular occurrence when unions were getting started last century.

The skyrocketing GINI index is setting up a repeat of last century's fights. The skimming of the 1% is getting out of hand, people are getting desperate with little to lose and that's going to enable this fight. It's simplistic but as a data point observe this chart of share of U.S. income earned by the top 1%. 1929 the 1% collect ~24% of income. That declined rapidly and between 1955-1975 the averaged around 10%. Today the share is back up to the mid 20s (till 2013, the end of the date). Somewhere between 25 and 30 percent guillotines start getting sharpened.
posted by Mitheral at 4:04 PM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


Or even in the suburbs. I once was trying to find a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable on short notice because of my own short sightedness. 18 mile round trip. For a stupid cable.

Man, some days I really miss having a Radio Shack ten minutes away in any direction.
posted by mikelieman at 4:31 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


Jane McAlevey: how to organize for power
posted by The Whelk at 4:33 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


As a 'get out of my bike lane' bike rider in a large US city with antiquated infrastructure, what Amazon, Uber, Lyft, and other platforms have done, effectively, is privatize what is otherwise public infrastructure (a bike lane), in order to use if for temporary parking spaces/cab ranks/loading bays, that they don't have to pay for. It makes bike riding so much harder.

It was recently move-in weekend at the local university here, there were three-foot high piles of Amazon boxes spilling onto the streets outside the local apartment blocks. It seems to be getting exponentially worse.

and also it's not really so much a question of either Amazon or drive-to-mall, as as it is one of neither. Fighting words I know but we are about to run out of time on this one.
posted by carter at 4:49 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


The part about the driver being faced with 3 years prison and if he doesn't get convicted, the family of the woman killed can't sue the company is so tragic. Either way, these working class people all lose. Lives are lost, lives are ruined, regular people have to fight each other while Amazon sits back and laughs all the way to the bank. It's sick.
posted by starfishprime at 5:05 PM on August 31, 2019 [11 favorites]




I wonder if we'll get to where it becomes a selling point for Amazon that it's safe to order from them than to go shopping because you're less likely to get shot.
posted by CheeseLouise at 5:25 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


And just as it had again and again — in cases of death, injury, and workplace mistreatment — the company invoked the carefully worded agreement it requires all delivery firms to sign, obliging them to defend and indemnify it from, or assume responsibility for, any and all legal claims.
Also I'll note that this sort of chain of contracts doesn't fly in BC. If as a business you hire a contractor and a worker for that company does something illegal/behaves unsafely you and the contracted company and the entire chain of employees and supervisors can be found liable. You are expected to vet your contractors to make sure they are operating legally as part of your legislated due diligence.
posted by Mitheral at 5:32 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


It is very interesting (to me, anyway) how a business's practices around their employees, such as safety training, unionization, etc., Can have such a significant impact.

The last three times I went to Target, there were noticeably fewer registers open than usual, and longer lines. There was also something new: a couple of employees wandering around, walking up to people in line, asking if they wanted to pay with a card, then pulling those folks out of line to check them out with a handheld register.

I was approached, and agreed to do it, on each of those three trips. Each time, it felt like the feeling of initial pleasure (hey, I get to skip the line!) was not nearly enough to compensate for the painfully long process of the checkout person bending over and lifting each item out of my cart, scanning it, and placing it back in. The third time, I almost said no (better to wait than watch someone working in a sub-part ergonomic situation) but elected to do it so that I could ask a few questions.

Long story short, she was happy to talk, and shared that she enjoyed this new approach because it let her walk around instead of starting at a register, and let her chat with people a bit more.

However, when I shared that I was a unionized checkout person in my past, and that our union would never have allowed cashiers to do so much bending/twisting from the waist and repetitively lifting/putting back these items -- essentially throwing out all the ergonomic aspects of the register -- she was surprised, and it was clear she hadn't thought of the long-term effect on her body (or been trained/warned about the potential risks.)

Even the bagging part was bad, forcing her to struggle to hold the bag open over a moving cart (or hold the cart, too) and load things, or drag the cart over to an empty register and use the bagging rack, adding more twisting/pulling physical stress.
posted by davejay at 5:54 PM on August 31, 2019 [25 favorites]




Safety 3rd
posted by krisjohn at 6:28 PM on August 31, 2019


“UPS and FedEx drive past my house every day. So does Amazon. So does the postman.”

And the postman doesn’t even bring anything valuable or worthwhile. We get a few slivers of mailers here and there that we didn’t even ask for and can’t cancel.
posted by ascrabblecat at 7:05 PM on August 31, 2019


You’re never going to replace physical stores with delivery drivers, for the exact reason that both have to bring STUFF to the consumer. Either 100 of us individually go get it, or 100 people sort it, catalog it, stock it, box it, label it, load it, fix the truck, gas the truck, and drive the truck.

If you don’t have stores, you have distribution centers. You still have the same amount of STUFF. You still need to refrigerate it and light it and put it in a building safe for humans that protects it from the elements. The only difference is whether a vehicle drives it from a distribution center to a store, or a distribution center to your house. That’s it. A store is just a distribution center.

There is never going to be a world where STUFF gets magically generated from the Star Trek replicator right in your kitchen. At least not one that any of us will ever see.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:17 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


On the super rare occasion that I get anything from Amazon I order it to the codelocked lockers at the grocery store a block away so I don't have to worry about misdeliveries or shenanigans. Also I assume that is the most efficient bundling of trips/deliveries. A big part of why I boycott Amazon beyond their wage slave treatment of fulfillment center workers is that the while idea of instant gratification over efficient green delivery is antithetical to my concept of how the world should work. I almost want the bulk goods equivalent of a CSA box. A giant pallet once a month with all the nonperishables I need. TP, Kleenex,paper towels, meds, insulin pump supplies, razors, misc hardware, a few books, etc..
Basically eliminate as many trips and deliveries as possible. Instead we're eliminating warehouse space? Seems crazy to me. This is what we get for essentially subsidizing frivolous motor transport with roadways built with non fuel tax funding. Permanent economic inefficiency baked into the system. Uber , Lyft and Amazon are part of the diseased thinking that got us into the dominance of the auto over all reasonable alternatives. Hell even tripling the gas tax to make it be in line with the social/environmental cost would cure some of this insanity.

My big hope is that Trump's crazy devotees will savage Amazon this election and just after. I'm planning on playing up that fight as much as possible on social media. We all win if both of those groups lose.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:22 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


Amazon Has a Nuclear Option Against Walmart and Other Competitors

And please, I thought up that idea two and a half years ago . It’s hardly a “nuclear option” and buying Whole Foods was a hell of a lot cheaper.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:25 PM on August 31, 2019


>Not only chaos, exploitation and danger, but also inefficiency. I sat on a porch in New Jersey last weekend and >watched as Amazon Van #1 delivered a package to the house across the street. Ten minutes later, Amazon Van #2 >pulled up, and delivered two more packages to the same house.

Good luck if you live in an apartment too. I've had a few packages either end up at someone else'd door, or they couldn't figure out how to ring the landlord to be let in so they just leave the packages outside the building. (My GF actually has her packages sent to my address nowadays because Amazon kept leaving packages outside her building without bothering to ring her, so said packages kept getting stolen. And we were both served by Amazon drivers instead of the USPS).
posted by gtrwolf at 12:16 AM on September 1, 2019


That also happens to be the central argument for UFOs and the flat Earth.

You give the flat earthers way too much credit. If they were actually using their eyes, they would be convinced the Earth is generally spherical, that the Moon revolves around the Earth, and both revolve around the sun.

Pretending a camera is an eye is one of the main ways they delude themselves and hoodwink others into believing their nonsense.
posted by wierdo at 3:18 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I would also point out that the population of the US has increased by 80 million people since 1989. I agree that we consume more because things are designed with planned obsolescence (Apple) or require more products to do the same job (women’s shirts—why do I need 3 layers to reach 100% opacity?), but we also consume more because there are a lot more of us. We basically added two Californias to the nation in that time period. Returning to previous levels of consumption, and optimizing packaging and delivery would all be benefits, but we would still need to feed/clothe/house/employ the people. It bears keeping that in mind when we reflect on trends from previous eras and compare them to today.

IIRC, over-land shipping is more dangerous and resource-hogging than individuals driving, and there is certainly a case to be made for revitalizing and expanding the rail system in order to do the job that is typically done by semi-trucks on highways today.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:10 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


"there is certainly a case to be made for revitalizing and expanding the rail system in order to do the job that is typically done by semi-trucks on highways today."

The US already has the most advanced, most-utilized rail freight system in the world. (It's just our passenger trains that are shitty.) 40% of our intercity freight goes by rail, and it does that without government subsidy and for the cheapest rates in the world. And a LOT of that stuff in amazon warehouses is coming by boat from China, by train from the Port of Los Angeles, and then by truck from the railyard to the quite-nearby amazon warehouse. This all occurs in a single intermodal carrier that's craned off the supermax boat into the container yard, from the container yard onto the train, and from the train onto a truck base. Trucks are relatively "last mile" in US shipping already. ("relatively" because "last mile" could be "last 300 miles" because it's a big empty country, but if you live near a big metro area, a lot of what your amazon warehouse stocks is coming by rail and only going from the railyard to the warehouse by truck.)

You'd be surprised how much US intercity shipping goes by barge, too, although that's mostly raw materials (grain, steel, coal, sand, timber) or waste products (trash, recycling). (And barges can carry intermodal too!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:21 AM on September 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


I'm not a huge fan of every 1099 casual worker with basically no background check having my address.

I don't have to worry about that, they have no idea where I live.

They deleted their customer service email, along with any way to easily report a problem with a missing order, off the orders page long ago, to make it as difficult as possible to ask simple questions. now they also have it explicitly in their fuck-off policies that if a nonexistent package is reported "delivered" by Amazon Delivery, you should wait 24+ hours before contacting the company because it is known and understood that company drivers will mark shit delivered more than a day in advance, and it is not an issue they have any interest in complaints or questions about.

it's awful but it's got to be good for boycott momentum. people who don't care that drivers do this to avoid dying or being fired will care that it inconveniences them personally. they know that putting their employees and contractors through such degradation and misery doesn't result in any meaningful customer benefit; you don't get a refund if your "one-day delivery" shows up after a week; it's not for anything. the cruelty is the point, as we say now.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:22 AM on September 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


The US already has the most advanced, most-utilized rail freight system in the world. [...] 40% of our intercity freight goes by rail [...]

I had no idea. This is the kind of thing I come here to learn. Thank you, Eyebrows McGee!
posted by Triplanetary at 10:55 AM on September 1, 2019


Part of that is fast freight between China and Europe goes by boat to the west coast of North America; gets trans loaded to trains to get rushed across the continent by rail; then trans loaded back on to ships to Europe.
posted by Mitheral at 11:06 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Whole forests being used up for the shipping boxes.
Recycling centers being overwhelmed by the card board from the shipping boxes.
Stuff, stuff, stuff - there's already enough stuff.
Shop Good Will, Salvation Army, your local used Stuff Store.
posted by Mesaverdian at 11:07 AM on September 1, 2019


Fuck Amazon. Fuck Uber. Fuck single use vehicles entirely. And also fuck capitalism. We are living an unsustainable internet fuelled fever dream right now, my lovely friends. It can't last. Whatever you might want to say about ease and access and your precious rural life, remember that.
posted by Go Banana at 2:58 PM on September 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


There are motor vehicles intended for a single use? I know there are a lot of bad drivers out there, but I have a hard time believing a substantial number of them are crashed and rendered permanently inoperable the moment the buyer gets home with their new car.
posted by wierdo at 7:49 PM on September 1, 2019


I feel that the new procedure (for me, maybe it's been happening a long time for others) of taking a picture of the package on my porch is really strange. Most of the time, the picture is so bad that I have a hard time recognizing it as actually my porch. When I work it out, I just feel creeped out, not happy that they are documenting things.
posted by Quonab at 11:11 PM on September 1, 2019


Alibaba is a good alternative to Amazon if you need a few thousand of something. Also it has Sticks day!
posted by um at 10:59 PM on September 2, 2019


I like being able to buy things on Amazon, but a goal of government regulation should be to prevent companies from externalizing or hiding true costs from the consumer. If we're going to pretend that people are somehow voting with their dollars that they prefer how Amazon does things, then every product on Amazon (and elsewhere) should include the costs of:

* disposing of the products at the end of their life
* increased load on waste and recycling facilities due to extra packaging
* proper training, safety measures, etc. for warehouse delivery workers
* living wages for people who manufacture and deliver the goods
* environmental damage caused by the process
* climate impacts of the process
* infrastructure costs borne by governments to allow home delivery
* human and community redevelopment costs due to brick and mortar going out of business

etc. etc.

Unless we work towards those things, it's dumb to say people picked Amazon as some kind of "rational choice". All we're doing - including me - is choosing based on the most concrete and immediate factors, which are cost and convenience. We're pushing all those other things to the back of our mind, or feeling guilt, or paying in other ways, or most likely assuming that if it's legal, appropriate regulation must be occurring and thus it's Not My Problem.

Regarding the assumption that all we're doing is shifting buying from stores to online in equal amounts, I'm curious about the data. My perception is that people are buying more and more over time. I have so much stuff I don't use, and some of it is the ability to impulse buy any time. When I resist the Primal urge, I end up not buying anything a lot of the time. For example, I forgot to buy my daughter a school planner last weekend when we were at Target. I could have made a Prime next-day order when I realized that, but instead I hunted around and found an old work planner I'd never used and gave her that. Problem solved, zero spent. But of course buying less ruins the economy, which takes us back to the "capitalism is evil" comment above.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:04 AM on September 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


Has anyone else noted that many (all?) Amazon fulfillment deliveries are marked "handed to a resident"? Not once has this been true. My theory is that the documentary picture of the package is not taken when a person accepts the package, saving the worker precious seconds.
posted by wnissen at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2019


fake or low quality search results So much this. The way Amzn dicks around on search convinces me they are a fundamentally dishonest crappy company, just in case I hadn't read any news at all, ever. I buy less from them because they have been raising prices and they're so awful. They do offer an option to bulk deliveries into 1 day a week, which I have used. Amzn has helped create this "have it Right Now" culture. I just ordered from 2 clothing companies, I'll be perfectly happy if stuff is here in a week or so. Most of the time, it's disconcerting for things to arrive too soon, surely I'm an outlier, but I have never had a pet costume emergency around a costume arriving in 24 hours. The emergency is how stinkin' cute my dog looks in costumes.
posted by theora55 at 1:41 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


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