An Amazon.com Inc. delivery driver in Long Island, New York, was told to abandon his van and call 911 in the event of looting and avoid “high crime” areas. A driver in Chicago encountered a heavy police presence and road closures. In Washington, another driver canceled his shifts for the week after seeing video of an Amazon van in Santa Monica, California, being looted in broad daylight.
The thousands of drivers who deliver Amazon packages around the U.S. are adjusting to civil unrest that has prompted curfews and road closures aimed at quelling riots and looting. It’s the latest test of a decentralized delivery machine made up of companies that hire people to drive blue Amazon-branded vans and independent drivers who use their own vehicles. Already worried about avoiding exposure to Covid-19, many drivers must weigh the risks of navigating around the unrest.
“I usually get about $100 for a four-hour shift, and that’s just not worth getting my car trashed,” said one Amazon delivery driver in Chicago who uses his own car. “I feel like I have a target on my back.”
He carries a pocket knife for protection and has been trying to avoid routes in the city, but the unrest is spreading to the suburbs. Another Chicago driver said many of his colleagues are declining shifts due to safety concerns.
The unrest in urban areas is largely affecting grocery delivery, according to several people interviewed for this story. Many drivers in big cities shifted to delivering groceries due to a surge in demand tied to the pandemic. Amazon entices them with better pay to pick up different types of shifts in different areas to match delivery capacity with demand.
But the company has boarded up at least one Whole Foods store and is closing others earlier than usual to comply with curfews. Amazon offered some deliveries up until midnight, so the drivers willing to work are noticing fewer shifts due to curfews.
Amazon declined to say which cities are affected or how many Whole Foods locations it has shuttered. Deliveries in some urban areas continue after curfew when deemed safe, the company said in an emailed statement.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees and partners” an Amazon spokeswoman said. “We are monitoring the situation closely and have adjusted routes or scaled back typical delivery operations in the affected areas to ensure the safety of our teams.”
Amazon has a small team of approximately 100 people based in Tempe, Arizona, to manage fast-delivery services such as Prime Now, Amazon Fresh and delivery from Whole Foods, according to a person familiar with the matter. The team is too small to handle the current situation and could halt deliveries in certain areas, said the person, who requested anonymity because he’s not authorized to discuss the details.
One driver who works for an independent contractor in Long Island said he received the following instructions if the van is being looted: Don’t try to prevent it, and if you’re surrounded, call 911 immediately. The driver said the company isn’t making some deliveries in certain areas.
A driver in Washington, who uses in his own car, said he canceled all of his shifts this week after seeing video of the van being looted in Santa Monica. He wears a vest and puts an Amazon decal on his car so people know who he is when he approaches their home, and he fears that will make him a target. Amazon drivers have been sharing their fears in chat rooms where they discuss tricks of the trade.
“People are scared,” he said. “You’re out there in a vest with a car full of packages, so you feel like a target. That video scared a lot of people.”