Amazon fined for robbing its own employees – Amazon News

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Amazon will pay more than $61.7 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it failed to pay Amazon Flex drivers the full amount they earned over a two and a half year period.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the company stopped stealing tips that Flex drivers earned — which the company received from Amazon customers over a two and a half year period — only after becoming aware of the FTC’s investigation in 2019.

An Amazon Flex driver loads her car with packages for delivery.

“The $61.7 million represents the amount that Amazon withheld from drivers and will be used by the FTC to compensate drivers, so the company essentially was not penalized for robbing the workers,” said Lisa McCormick, a New Jersey labor advocate who has blamed Reaganomics for the declining quality of life for American workers.

“Amazon employs 1.3 million people, serves hundreds of millions of customers and businesses, and is owned by one of the richest men in the world,” said McCormick. “They could afford a fine, but this is like making a bank robber give back the money and letting him go scot free.”

Image from FTC complaintAccording to the FTC’s administrative complaintagainst Amazon and its subsidiary, Amazon Logistics, the company regularly advertised that drivers participating in the Flex program would be paid $18–25 per hour for their work making deliveries to customers.

The ads, along with numerous other documents provided to Flex drivers, also prominently featured statements such as: “You will receive 100% of the tips you earn while delivering with Amazon Flex.”

“Rather than passing along 100 percent of customers’ tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself,” said Daniel Kaufman, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Our action today returns to drivers the tens of millions of dollars in tips that Amazon misappropriated, and requires Amazon to get drivers’ permission before changing its treatment of tips in the future.”

Amazon Flex is a program in which drivers, classified by Amazon as independent contractors, can agree to make deliveries using their personal vehicles.

Flex drivers deliver goods and groceries ordered through the Prime Now and AmazonFresh programs, which allow customers to give the drivers a tip.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that, in addition to telling drivers they would receive 100 percent of their tips, Amazon also assured its customers that 100 percent of any tips they paid would go to the driver.

In late 2016, the FTC alleges, Amazon shifted from paying drivers the promised rate of $18–25 per hour plus the full amount of customer tips to paying drivers a lower hourly rate, a shift that it did not disclose to drivers.

Amazon used the customer tips to make up the difference between the new lower hourly rate and the promised rate. This resulted in drivers’ being shorted more than $61.7 million in tips.

The FTC alleges that the company then intentionally failed to notify drivers of the changes to its pay plan and even took steps to make the changes obscure to drivers, with one employee reporting to colleagues that Amazon “did not want to communicate any pricing changes to [drivers], so we are only ‘reacting’ to any questions.”

After making the change, the company continued to promise drivers and customers that 100 percent of tips would be passed through to drivers.

Amazon received hundreds of complaints from drivers after enacting the change, as drivers became suspicious when their overall earnings decreased.

Drivers who complained received form e-mails falsely claiming that Amazon was continuing to pay drivers 100 percent of tips.

Internally, Amazon employees referred to the company’s handling of the change and driver complaints about it as an “Amazon reputation tinderbox” and “a huge PR risk to Amazon.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, Amazon continued using the new pricing model despite complaints from drivers and negative media coverage until August 2019—after the company received notice of the FTC’s investigation.

At that time, Amazon returned to a pay model where it pays drivers an identified base amount plus 100 percent of tips and gives the drivers a breakdown of their pay and tips.

Under the terms of the settlement with the FTC, Amazon will be required to pay $61,710,583, which will be used by the FTC to compensate Flex drivers.

In addition, Amazon will be prohibited from misrepresenting any driver’s likely income or rate of pay, how much of their tips will be paid to them, as well as whether the amount paid by a customer is a tip.

Amazon also will be prohibited from making any changes to how a driver’s tips are used as compensation without first obtaining the driver’s express informed consent.

Amazon drivers can sign up for email updates on the status of the refund process in the case here.

The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint and to accept the consent agreement was 4-0. Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips and Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter issued a joint statement, and Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a statement.

The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register soon. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final.

Instructions for filing comments appear in the published notice. Comments must be received 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Once processed, comments will be posted on regulations.gov.


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