Technology

Amazon DSPs instruct drivers to bypass security inspections

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Amazon drivers begin their delivery routes as workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York prepare to quit their jobs and demand increased protection and pay after several workers at the facility are diagnosed with COVID-19 became.

Paul Hennessy | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

Amazon delivery companies in the US are instructing workers to bypass the daily inspections to ensure the vans are driving safely.

As a safety precaution, Amazon requires contract suppliers to inspect their vehicles at the beginning and end of their shift. However, some drivers say they are being pressured to ignore damage and complete the inspections as soon as possible so that delivery companies can avoid vans being taken off the road. When delivery companies take a van off the road, they risk losing valuable package routes and drivers can lose a shift.

These inconsistent inspection practices undermine the company’s public health and safety messages. They also highlight the tension delivery partners face between ensuring driver safety and complying with Amazon’s aggressive delivery quotas, which can span hundreds of packages per day per driver.

CNBC spoke to 10 current and former Amazon delivery drivers in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Texas who discovered their vans were experiencing issues ranging from jammed doors and tires with little to no profile to broken rear cameras and broken mirrors. They say managers told them to ignore these issues and complete their deliveries as usual. Some of these drivers asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from their employers or Amazon.

“They’d tell us, just make sure everything is okay and go,” said Chastity Cook, who stopped working for an Amazon delivery company in Illinois earlier this year. “We just went through the list. We don’t even stop reading it and making sure it’s all there.”

Cook’s former employer, Courier Express One, was unavailable for comment.

Amazon told CNBC in a statement that the company regularly reviews delivery companies’ compliance with safety guidelines, including two daily vehicle safety checks. Amazon is taking vehicles out of service until security issues are resolved, the company said.

“If the security protocol is breached, we take various actions, including ending our relationship with a DSP [delivery service partner] when warranted, “the company said. We are actively researching the experiences in this story and do not believe they are representative of the 150,000+ drivers who safely deliver packages on a daily basis.”

Amazon’s DSP program, launched in 2018, plays a crucial role in the company’s extensive fulfillment and logistics activities. The DSP network consists of at least 2,000 contract suppliers and 115,000 drivers in the US, often recognizable by blue Amazon-branded delivery vans, that travel the last mile to the buyer’s doorstep.

Since the DSP network is operated by partners, drivers and managers operate at a distance from the retail giant. The work environment and management quality vary widely between DSPs, say the drivers.

Amazon previously said it has educated drivers on best security practices and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in security mechanisms across the DSP network. Before stepping down as CEO, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos pledged to focus more on safety and employee satisfaction.

The company is increasingly relying on software and vehicle technology to monitor driver safety. Amazon introduced AI-enabled cameras in its vans in February that are designed to detect security breaches and has been using an app called Mentor to track drivers’ driving behavior for years. Drivers and DSPs are partially assessed by Amazon for compliance with security measures that can determine their eligibility to receive bonuses.

Delivery companies have discovered workarounds for some of these tools. Vice reported in May that some DSPs were encouraging drivers to turn off Mentor while they were driving to ensure they continue to hit Amazon’s delivery targets.

Additionally, Amazon will continue to undergo a full review of the safety and treatment of its warehouse and delivery workers. Under pressure to ship packages to Amazon’s 200-plus million Prime members, drivers are increasingly voicing up about working conditions, including claims that workers routinely urinate in bottles and get into dangerous situations along the way.

This is how the inspections work

CNBC has received a screen shot of the inspection process called the Driver Vehicle Inspection Checklist, which shows a step-by-step breakdown of how it works.

Drivers open the Flex app and scan a barcode on their vehicle that connects it to the app. A window then appears in the app instructing the driver to start the inspection.

Drivers check the front, passenger side, rear, driver side and cab of their vehicle. Within each category there are several subsections that need further examination, such as lights, tires, mirrors, steering, cameras and brakes on the van.

If a driver reports problems with the van, the Flex app immediately prompts him to contact his manager. The app also does not show drivers the route of the parcel delivery. Once the van is repaired, the first driver assigned to the vehicle must use the Flex app to check that all issues have been resolved.

Otherwise, a screen with the message “You have not reported any problems with the vehicle” appears at the end of the checklist. Drivers must tick a box that says, “I hereby certify that my vehicle inspection report is truthful and accurate.”

Damaged seat belts, broken rear view cameras

In its DSP safety manuals and educational materials, Amazon encourages drivers not to drive dangerous vehicles. An inspection guide distributed to drivers and viewed by CNBC reads in bold and red letters: “Do not operate an unsafe vehicle on the route.”

A separate 11-page safety manual for DSPs states: “Drivers must report all vehicle defects, including malfunctions and defects, immediately.” The undated document also states that pre-drive and post-drive inspections are required to ensure that “your assigned vehicle is ready to drive and does not present any hazards that prevent the safe operation of the vehicle”.

But drivers say there are persistent safety risks in their vehicles, from jammed doors and broken rear view cameras to bare tires and seat belts that won’t buckle, and managers advise against reporting these issues on the checklist.

“They told us not to mark things when they were broken because the van would not be drivable,” said Cook, the Illinois driver. “You said to report damage to management.”

An Amazon.com delivery driver carries boxes into a delivery truck outside a distribution facility in Hawthorne, Calif., February 2, 2021.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

A former Austin driver, who wanted to remain anonymous fearing retaliation from his former employer, said a manager told them that if they did something wrong with their vehicle, they would not be on shift that day.

The driver said he had noticed numerous safety hazards while working for his DSP. Several vans had broken backup alarms warning pedestrians and other vehicles if the van is reversing. Engine lights and other sensors often blinked on the van – enough that drivers joked that it looked like Christmas lights, the driver said.

Andre Kirk, a former Amazon delivery driver in Indiana, recalled inspecting his van and saw the engine check light was on. Kirk thought it meant it should be taken out of service, but he was still forced to drive it.

Concerned for his safety, Kirk drove the van to a nearby Jiffy Lube. The mechanic told Kirk he couldn’t work on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans that some DSPs use, so Kirk decided to get back on the road and finish his shift as safely as possible.

Kirk said he was confused as to why his DSP would not allow his staff to report problems he was having during vehicle inspections.

“I had the feeling that something was wrong. Kirk, who was fired from his DSP in May, said in an interview. “If this is not supposed to be in operation, why am I still driving it?”

Kirk’s former employer, FAE Distributors, was unavailable for comment.

“There goes your way”

After drivers report a problem during the inspections, Amazon requests DSP companies to “ground” the vehicle or take it out of service for repairs.

Motorists say managers avoid vehicle grounding because they don’t want to give up delivery routes. For example, if a DSP is forced to ground three vans for repairs, they may not have enough replacement vans in their fleet to handle all of the delivery routes Amazon assigned them that day.

Giving up a delivery route can cost a DSP.

According to drivers and a former DSP owner who wanted to remain anonymous because they are still in the logistics business, Amazon pays contract delivery companies for every weekly package delivered and for every delivery route they pick up.

The former DSP owner said he tried to fix vehicle issues as soon as possible, but would recommend drivers not to flag issues in the Flex app to avoid vans lying on the ground and “falling stretches” to let”.

Giving up a route not only damages the DSPs financially, it can also affect the score that Amazon assigns. Amazon rates delivery partners on a scale from “Bad” to “Fantastic +”, taking into account things like delivery performance. If a DSP’s ranking goes down, they can lose bonus payments or get worse routes in the future.

“The side door could be broken, the front door could be broken and you shouldn’t report it because they will ground the vehicle,” said one Indiana driver. “And then your route goes.”

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