Amazon: What If You Thought of Doing Manual Labour for Us as More of a Workout

By Tom McKay on at

On Monday, Amazon’s PR department touted the story of a woman who allegedly lost a tonne of weight working for its Flex delivery service in the US. In the company’s framing, Flex isn’t a dystopian project to reduce shipping costs by letting an army of expendable, plainclothes contractors compete to score “last-mile” delivery gigs. It’s a fun workout!

“Amazon Flex allowed this woman to lose 100 lbs in 18 months by creating a workout while delivery packages,” Amazon News wrote.

From the linked article on Kansas City’s KSHB:

Jackie Crow jogs and smiles when she delivers Amazon packages from her car to front porches.

Jackie calls it her at-work, workout.

She came up with the concept of making her job a workout because three years ago, she weighed 300 pounds and decided it was time to lose weight.

“I wear long sleeves in the hot sun and sometimes I’ll park a longer distance from a house so I can jog a longer distance,” explained Crow.

Using Flex as a workout opportunity is actually Crow’s second occupation:

Amazon Flex allows drivers like Crow the flexibility of picking their own work schedules. Crow said that flexibility helped her have time for family, exercise and helping with the family business, Wilson’s Pizza and Grille .

Crow, who told KSHB she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis three years ago, said the Flex gig was part of an “active” routine designed to help her manage the condition and lose weight. That’s all genuinely well and good! Lasting lifestyle changes are not easy to pull off, and this seems to be an arrangement that works well for her, and to her credit. But it doesn’t change that other people working for Flex or similar Amazon programs who depend on it for income in an age of growing economic inequality and insecurity are being asked to perform the same manual labour, and many of them don’t seem to think as highly of the terms under which they do it.

As Gizmodo documented last year, contractors for Flex – as well as staff at subcontracted courier companies in a virtually identical program – allege the program offers few labour protections, operates on confusing rules, offers work on arbitrary schedules, and doesn’t always pay out according to expectations.

Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney who has represented couriers for services including, Lyft, Grubhub, Uber, and Flex, told Gizmodo she believes the program amounts to a massive scheme to misclassify labour that should be performed by employees as contractors “in a pretty widespread way.” National Employment Law Project general counsel and program director Catherine Ruckelshaus concurred, telling Gizmodo that the degree of control Amazon exercises over the contractors is “very powerful, strong evidence” of misclassification. Ruckelshaus added that Amazon’s arbitration agreements for Flex couriers are a “very effective” tool to prevent them from bringing a class action against the company.

Workers for other parts of Amazon’s supply chain (particularly warehouses) have also alleged that the company offers low pay in exchange for unrealistic performance expectations that require them to do gruelling amounts of physical labour:

“My doctor told me we are doing the equivalent of a marathon a day for five days straight at work. Not even professional athletes work that hard,” Eduardo Hernandez, an Amazon worker protesting at a facility outside of Madrid, said in a statement. “I used to like to play soccer on the weekends and go hiking. I don’t have the energy to do that anymore. My knees hurt. My back hurts.”

Hmm. A brisk workout, you say.

Amazon’s PR department may as well have borrowed this narrative out of the realms of comedy. Touting for-profit manual labour as a fun workout activity is literally a sketch from Nathan for You, a show in which comedian Nathan Fielder poses as a business expert to give clients outlandishly bad advice.

In any case, the all-time tech industry award for bragging about how hard your gig economy staff are working still belongs to Lyft, which touted the story of a pregnant driver who picked up a passenger while having contractions on the way to the hospital as a success story in 2016.

Featured image: Mark Lennihan (AP)