Thursday, December 9

Fired by a robot: this is how Amazon machines decide the jobs of their delivery men


Updated

Amazon is automating much of the operation of its warehouses, to the point that its delivery people can lose their jobs if a program decides that it has not performed enough

Fired by a robot: ace

One day you get up and deliver Amazon packages in your city and the next day you get a notification to your mobile where a machine tells you that you are fired and that you no longer have to go back to the warehouses. Neither option to reply nor exact reasons for the dismissal or anything: you are on the street.

This is the reality of many Amazon deliverers in the US. Specifically, of the workers of Amazon Flex, the company-powered courier service in which self-employed workers (‘contractors’, in the US) deliver the goods as an alternative to UPS, Fedex, DHL and other private courier services.

This type of service, in which individuals make Amazon deliveries and take a commission for each order, also exists in Spain and has been widely criticized for insecurity faced by so many consumers, who can see their packages not being delivered properly; as well as the delivery men themselves, who have to use their own vehicle and are not contracted by Amazon nor do they have an assured stability.

How do you publish Bloomberg, a large number of workers see how overnight they have lost their work and have not had a confirmation of any kind of problem from a human superior: it all depends on what the machine considers to be good or bad.

The big problem with this system will be the lack of evaluation capacity of an algorithm, which does not take into account traffic or bad weather when establishing the optimal delivery time of an order, to name one of the many examples that are taken into account.

Every mistake that is made working with Amazon is punished and taking a detour that is not on a highway, with the delay that this may entail in delivery, is rated negatively and the machines will take this into account when renewing the contract with the dealer on duty.

Similarly, when done automatically and as a message through the application used to accept orders on Amazon Flex, there is no option to reply and you never know exactly why the employment relationship ended.

Perhaps this is all due to the beliefs of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon who this week has retired as CEO of the company, and that he considers that everyone is lazy by nature.

It is not the first time that the man-machine relationship at Amazon has brought problems of this kind. One case that raised a cry last year was that of a group of 300 Baltimore warehouse employees, whose work was evaluated exclusively with machines, was fired for underperformance.

Amazon is one of the world’s largest and most labor-intensive companies in the United States, where employees’ hours and working conditions have been criticized for being impassive and inflexible. In the past, there has been a lot of talk about the cases of workers who cannot make stops to go to the bathroom, because their schedule does not allow it, and they end up relieving themselves in plastic bottles. This is something that Amazon has flatly denied on all occasions, but the evidence is clear.

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