Amazon drivers fired by automated emails as algorithm makes judgement calls

A file photo of an Amazon Flex driver delivering packages.
A file photo of an Amazon Flex driver delivering packages Photo credit: Getty Images

Drivers are losing their jobs delivering Amazon packages because algorithms tracking them are deciding they aren't doing their jobs properly, says a new report.

Bloomberg detailed multiple instances of people being dismissed via automated emails while working for Flex, Amazon's service allowing drivers to earn money by delivering packages with their own vehicles.

Flex, launched in 2015 by the online shopping giants, has been downloaded more than four million times worldwide, with 2.9 million potential drivers in the US installing the app.

Hiring, firing and performance is largely handled without human interaction, with drivers registering, uploading supporting documentation, signing up for shifts and monitoring their ratings via the app.

The ratings - fantastic, great, fair or at risk - are awarded based on a variety of different factors including whether they were on time and whether the package was placed in an appropriate place to avoid package theft.

One of those who lost their job was 42-year-old mother of three Neddra Lira, who lives in Texas.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering via Flex became her major income source and she estimated she had delivered around 8,000 packages.

But there were problems, including drivers lining up for as long as an hour to collect packages, meaning she was behind schedule before she had even started.

And, when she spotted a nail in her tyre she was told to return to where she had collected packages from, causing her rating to drop to 'at risk', despite that being at Amazon's direction.

On October 1 last year she was told "your standing is currently great, which means you’re one of our best delivery partners," Bloomberg reported.

But the next day she was emailed saying she had violated Flex's terms of service and was no longer eligible to drive and earn via the app.

Despite appealing the decision, she never received specific examples of where she had gone wrong, and eventually was told she would not be reinstated.

This led to her struggling financially and her car was repossessed two days after Christmas with presents for her kids still inside, Bloomberg reported.

Others who lost their jobs include 63-year-old army veteran Stephen Normandin, who was penalised for missing early morning deliveries at an apartment complex because the gates were locked and the office shut.

He appealed but was unable to overturn the decision. Others, like Ryan Cope, decided it just wasn't worth appealing.

"It's you against the machine, so you don't even try," he said., which provides information to allow drivers to make informed decisions before signing up for gig-economy jobs - like Flex, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash - provides other examples of unfair reasons for losing standing at Flex. 

These included customers not providing ID for alcohol purchases, app glitches which left packages unscannable and late shift packages undeliverable because the location closed at 5pm.

"Doesn’t sound fair, does it? But that’s currently how it works for Flex drivers. You can try to dispute drops in standing, but it doesn’t always work," the site says.

"Executives knew this was gonna shit the bed," a former engineer who designed the system told Bloomberg.

"That’s actually how they put it in meetings. The only question was how much poo we wanted there to be."

But Amazon spokesperson Kate Kudrna says the anecdotal stories people told Bloomberg didn't match the experience of most Flex drivers.

"We have invested heavily in technology and resources to provide drivers visibility into their standing and eligibility to continue delivering, and investigate all driver appeals," she said.