Undercover as an Amazon driver

The Toronto Star has a story today in which a reporter went undercover as an Amazon delivery driver. You won’t be surprised that, like a lot of other similar stories, it casts Amazon in a bad light.For my part, I’m far less interested in the details of the job than I am interested in the notion that a person can become an Amazon delivery driver so easily that it’s in any way practical for a reporter to do it as an undercover operation. Because that is not at all a normal thing in that industry.

Way, way back in my early college days I worked for UPS. I worked there a grand total of two hours because it was simply not the job for me. Between those two hours and a day’s worth of orientation I was there long enough, however, to learn a few things about it:

  • UPS, then and now, was a union job. The Teamsters. Even if I only worked there two hours, I still got my union card and still have it around here someplace;
  • The job I had was unloading trucks at a distribution center. It was super hard work and I was a lazy and out of shape person, but for someone who had a better work ethic than me it was, actually, a very good job. It paid well, it had benefits and there was a genuine chance for advancement;
  • Indeed, advancement was the very point. In even those two hours they explained to me that, if I did an OK job unloading I could go to loading, which was less physically taxing and which paid more. If I could memorize zip codes, I could move to sorting which was even better. If I did well there and put my time in I could move into other parts of the company, eventually either getting on a supervisory track or — over time — I could work my way into becoming a UPS driver, brown suit, brown truck at all.

Which is to say: becoming a UPS driver was not only a long process which required trust in you on the part of the company and a demonstration of your responsibility, but it was a very desirable goal toward which people who stayed with the company worked.

My experience was nearly 30 years ago, but I spoke with someone this morning who is more familiar. He tells me that getting in at UPS is still a good job with good pay and good benefits. This comes in contrast to gig economy jobs like driving for Amazon, where you are not trained, not invested, and where, in most cases, the drivers have low pay, no benefits and, in fact, the cars are insured by the drivers themselves, not the company.

I’m not out here waving the banner for UPS necessarily. I’m sure there are things they do with which I would not agree and I’m sure employees have their complaints. Every company could be described that way. But it’s sure as hell got to be better than what happens at Amazon.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.