Amazon Flex drivers in Avenel, New Jersey, stage a walkout to protest companies’ efforts to cut costs at the expense of workers

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Amazon delivery driver [Source: Amazon Media]

On Saturday, June 18, a group of Amazon Flex drivers in Avenel, New Jersey staged a work stoppage and protested a pay cut by the company. The 15 workers who organized the walkout reported that Amazon reduced the amount paid per block from $38 to $34. Flexible workers do not receive any other compensation, such as medical insurance or vehicle maintenance.

Amazon treats these workers as independent contractors and not as employees. Flexible workers drive their own vehicle and cover all expenses, including gas. Avenel workers are paid in two-hour increments during which they are expected to be available to make an unlimited number of deliveries with no distance limit.

Amazon Flex delivery people in various locations across the country have been protesting the high cost of fuel for months. Under conditions of soaring inflation, including skyrocketing gasoline prices in particular, these workers were already under severe financial hardship. This situation has been aggravated by falling wages.

Furthermore, the same punitive acceleration that Amazon warehouse workers are subjected to, leading to the highest injury rate in the logistics industry, also affects delivery drivers. A recent study by the Center for Strategic Organization reported that almost one in five drivers suffered injuries in 2021, a 40% increase from the previous year.

The mistreatment of delivery drivers by Amazon is not new. Those who drive corporate vans have AI-enabled cameras installed in the cabin that monitor virtually every driver and vehicle action. Even contract drivers who use their own vehicles are spied on by a system called Mentor which tracks driver performance down to how long it takes to load packages onto their vehicle.

All of this leads to enormous stress and frustration, not to mention economic distress. In the press release issued by Avenel workers, one of them said: “We cannot survive like this. We’re asking Amazon to raise our pay and treat us with respect and dignity.

The Avenel workers’ action is just one expression of Amazon workers’ growing opposition to the attacks the company is staging in an increasingly brutal attempt to unload the crisis on workers at which the company faces. Amazon is desperate to maintain maximum profitability under conditions of rapidly intensifying crisis of global capitalism.

Just two weeks before the Avenel worker action, workers at an Amazon delivery facility in Bellmawr, New Jersey (DEW8), walked off the job to protest the company’s cost-cutting measures .

Two recent reports describe the economic conditions that are whipping Amazon, pushing it to further intensify the exploitation of its workforce.

The first is an article from the wall street journal profiling Andy Jassy, ​​who replaced Jeff Bezos a year ago as president and CEO of Amazon when Bezos retired. During Jassy’s tenure, Amazon’s total market value dropped by $600 million. In the first quarter of 2022, the company suffered its first quarterly loss since 2015.

This relates to the fact that Amazon marketed itself as an “essential” employer during the early years of the pandemic. Under Bezos, the strategy had been meteoric growth in conditions where the pandemic had dramatically increased online shopping.

Physical facilities have been significantly expanded and the workforce has nearly doubled from 800,000 in 2019 to 1.6 million in 2021.

This strategy has resulted not only in soaring profits, which have tripled between 2020 and 2021, but also in the highest injury and turnover rates of any workforce in the logistics industry. This extreme stress regime has led to repeated protests and attempts to organize as workers seek to find a way to defend themselves.

According to Log, Amazon’s expansion “at a breakneck pace” has overestimated demand growth. “The new CEO is working to reduce the excesses of an e-commerce operation that the company has grown…through much of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says.

E-commerce sales faltered in the face of the ruling class’s drive to force workers back to work, regardless of the consequences, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage. Amazon has enthusiastically participated in this effort, even though its online purchases have declined along with its revenue.

The objective now is to restore profitability by reducing costs. According to Log“Mr. Jassy and his team are working to sublet at least 10 million square feet of excess warehouse space, defer construction of new facilities on land purchased by Amazon, and find ways to put end or renegotiate leases with outside warehouse owners.In addition, 68 physical Amazon stores were closed.

The protests by workers at Avenel and Bellmawr are the result of the implementation of this cost-cutting strategy.

In its rush to reduce its workforce, it would appear that Amazon’s high worker turnover rate – an estimate 153% of its total workforce annually — would make workforce reduction relatively easy. Ironically, a recently leaked internal study from mid-2021 concluded that at least in some places, especially in sparsely populated areas, Amazon may have difficulty maintaining adequate staff levels by 2024.

The internal report suggests that one of the problems is that Amazon’s current strategy of low wages, draconian acceleration and terrorist surveillance of its workforce is doomed to failure in the long term. According Voice“The leaked report offers a variety of solutions to choose from, but each with trade-offs that Amazon executives may not find acceptable.”

Suggestions that include raising wages and reducing the frenzied productivity rates demanded of the workforce “could also mean reducing performance monitoring and productivity quotas which have played a role, albeit controversial, in the company’s historic commercial success to date”.

It is not certain that the new strategy of increased efficiency and reduction of the workforce will offset the forecasted labor shortages. However, in either case, workers can expect Amazon to continue to maximize the exploitation of its workers.

Efforts by Amazon workers to counter this extreme exploitation, such as the Amazon Labor Union’s election victory at New York’s JFK8 warehouse, have already proven to be a dead end. While originally billing itself as an “independent” union, no sooner had the ALU passed at JFK8 than its leaders held meetings with President Biden, a longtime Wall Street accomplice and credit card companies, while rubbing elbows with corrupt leaders of the Teamsters Union and other AFL-CIO affiliates.

Amazon workers cannot trust the ALU, the Teamsters or any of the bureaucratically controlled pro-corporate unions. Workers must lead the fight on their own by forming rank-and-file independent workplace committees and joining with other workers in a network of such committees – the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC). These committees, democratically controlled by workers, would link Amazon workers and other logistics workers across the United States and around the world in a powerful movement against corporations and the profit system.

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