Amazon’s intrusive micromanaging forcing drivers out of the industry

March 26, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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There has been a lot of chatter regarding how self-driving trucks will affect the trucking workforce, but could Amazon’s recent move to require biometric consent forms and AI-powered cameras spark the beginning of a mass exodus?

Recently, the Thomson Reuters Foundation featured a story of a now former Amazon delivery driver. In a nutshell, the driver, Vic, had put up with a lot of shenanigans from Amazon despite being an independent contractor. However, Amazon finally pulled a stunt that drove Vic to say enough is enough: sticking a camera in his face and recording his face and body for the entire shift.

Specifically, Vic was told he and his coworkers had until March 23 to sign a release form allowing Amazon to record them and store biometric information. All of this will be collected with a four-lens, AI-powered camera in the vehicle. Rather than play ball once again, Vic put in his two weeks.

According to a report by Motherboard published on Tuesday, these cameras are going companywide. If delivery drivers do not sign the consent form, they’re gone. Amazon has about 75,000 delivery drivers. Since that form is due this week, it is too soon to know how many drivers jump ship.

Amazon sent Land Line the following statement:

“Netradyne cameras are used to help keep drivers and the communities where we deliver safe. We piloted the technology from April to October 2020 on over 2 million miles of delivery routes, and the results produced remarkable driver and community safety improvements – accidents decreased 48%, stop sign violations decreased 20%, driving without a seatbelt decreased 60%, and distracted driving decreased 45%. Don’t believe the self-interested critics who claim these cameras are intended for anything other than safety.”

Before the biometric, AI-powered cameras were introduced, Amazon drivers were subjected to other forms of incredible micromanaging.

All drivers must download a certain app that monitors their driving, phone use and location. That data is compiled into a score that supervisors use for or against drivers. Another app drivers have to download forces them to take a selfie before each shift, despite the fact they already log in other ways before starting a shift.

Many stakeholders, and even some federal agencies, have expressed concern over how automation will affect truck driving jobs. A recent report to Congress from the U.S. Department of Transportation paints a picture of what the future of trucking jobs will look like.

However, that report only looked at Level 4 and 5 automation, which are vehicles that do not require a human driver. That technology doesn’t even exist right now. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association continues to urge lawmakers to be mindful of the potential pitfalls of autonomous vehicles.

What no one is talking about is how other technologies might force many drivers out of the industry.

A great example is ELDs. When the federal government announced that it will require ELDs, many truckers voiced fierce opposition, many of whom threatened to leave the industry. It is difficult to know how many followed through with that threat, but the threat was real. Truckers were doing just fine without the ELDs. Now, their jobs are more difficult due to the micromanaging caused by the devices. To add insult to injury, there has been no strong evidence supporting the notion that ELDs improved safety, which was the basis of mandating them in the first place.

The issue doesn’t stop at ELDs. Some lawmakers want to mandate front/side underride guards, automatic emergency braking systems and speed limiters. None of those technologies will improve safety. Some of them might actually reduce safety. All of them will increase costs. For many truck drivers, speed limiters may be the final straw just like the cameras were for Vic.

In the case of the Amazon cameras, the U.S. Senate has stepped in. On March 3, Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding answers regarding the cameras. Before truckers get too excited about the Senate trying to stop invasive vehicle technology, it’s worth noting that Congress on both sides of the aisle have a war against Big Tech. For example, Blumenthal, Booker and Markey are all cosponsors of the Stop Underrides Act, which would require side and front underride guards.

Perhaps the fact that it is Amazon treating drivers poorly that will pique the interests of Congress when it comes to certain trucking regulations.

Truckers’ demands have been mostly ignored over the decades. However, if Big Tech is treating drivers unfairly, that’s a different story. Congress is looking to punish Big Tech any way it can.

Recently, The Intercept published a story about Amazon drivers so pressured by nearly impossible schedules that they are filling bottles with urine and defecating in bags. According to the article, this is not an isolated incident and is well-known among Amazon drivers.

Right now, there is no driver shortage. Rather, there is a retention problem, and we can see why. Drivers are fleeing companies like Amazon and looking for greener pastures. However, if more companies adopt Amazon’s driver business model, there will be fewer places to turn to. If that were to happen, self-driving trucks won’t come soon enough to save the industry.

Bottom line: Drivers are leaving the industry, and it is not because of self-driving trucks. Other technologies and borderline inhumane working conditions are making trucking look undesirable. This has been true for quite some time now, but maybe it takes the world’s largest company (and Congress’ disdain for it) to see some meaningful action. LL

 

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Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.