Amazon has an open secret that few pay heed to: a "nearly invisible workforce" that works to get consumers their packages on demand, per Gizmodo. Bryan Menegus dives into the company's Flex program, responsible for the firm's "last-mile" service, which involves getting ordered goods to a customer from the last local shipment site on the delivery chain. But while the driving program is described online by Amazon as letting those interested "be your own boss, set your own schedule, and have more time to pursue your goals and dreams," Menegus—who chatted with 15 current or ex-drivers from nine states and two countries, as well as with three contractors from local courier companies tied to Amazon—instead paints it as an exploitive system that considers its drivers "utterly expendable" and offers them little recourse to address issues or unfair practices.
What he found is that getting into the Flex program can be simple: Entry criteria are "modest" (e.g., being over 21, having a smartphone with the Flex app), as is training. One UK driver says: "Honestly, it seems they take on anyone." But once on board, drivers say they face faulty data systems, altercations between drivers vying for prime routes (and high-tech cheating to claim those routes), and a lack of support from "hot-headed warehouse managers" who take a "customer is always right" attitude. And one labor attorney thinks not everything is on the up-and-up when it comes to how the company handles its drivers: considering them contractors, but treating them like employees, with all of the responsibility and few benefits. "I think it's breaking the law in a pretty widespread way," she says. More on the Flex program, part of the "constantly shifting, secretive nature of Amazon," here. (Read more Longform stories.)