Amazon pays some missing tips to delivery drivers, but many say they are still being shorted

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For the third time this year, an apparent glitch in Amazon's system has deprived perhaps tens of thousands of workers of the majority of their income from delivering groceries for the commerce giant. - Dreamstime/Dreamstime/TNS

SEATTLE — Amazon told its contract grocery delivery drivers over the weekend they would be made whole for missing tips with an adjustment to their Tuesday pay, and that the underlying payment processing problem had been fixed. But many drivers in the company’s Flex program said Wednesday they had not been paid what they believe they are owed, amounting to hundreds of dollars each over the last two weeks for those working regularly.

Drivers also described routes they worked as recently as Tuesday for which tips — typically accounting for more than half of their earnings for delivering food from Whole Foods Market, Amazon Fresh and PrimeNow — were again far below normal.

Some drivers who had complained to the company, flagging specific delivery routes from which tips had evaporated during the second half of September, said they had indeed been paid for those routes with the Tuesday pay adjustment.

But their accustomed tips for other routes had not been paid at all, or were paid a fraction of the usual amount. And some drivers said they have not been paid any missing tips, despite Amazon’s assurances last week that it had reached out to all affected drivers, and that drivers didn’t need to take any action to receive all missing tips.

“Of my 14 routes that had missing tips, I only appear to have received payment for the four that I originally emailed Amazon about,” said Ben, a Seattle-area driver who asked to be identified only by his first name, in an email exchange with The Seattle Times. “When I asked about the other 10, they sent the exact same cut/paste response from before the ‘fix,’ explaining that everything was correct.”

Another driver, who, like most who shared their stories via email, did not want to be named for fear of retribution from Amazon, said the same thing had happened to him. He described a “difficult and sad situation” for perhaps thousands of drivers who can see no options for getting paid the tips they have earned from Amazon customers.

Amazon “can do what they want with the drivers,” this Seattle-area driver, who has been working for Amazon for three years, said in Spanish. “And if the driver makes many claims, they end the contract and that’s it. They have many more drivers. … We have no legal defense to monitor them and force them to give us our tips. We work under the promise that the tips are delivered 100% to the driver. Which is not happening.”

Amazon does not provide drivers with a detailed breakdown of customer tips, unlike other grocery delivery and gig-economy companies, including Instacart, DoorDash, Uber and Lyft. Amazon pre-sets tip amounts for most food deliveries, usually $5, which customers can manually increase or decrease at checkout. But that lack of transparency leaves drivers with no insight into who gives what. They can only tell when tip totals have decreased substantially or disappeared on routes that used to regularly yield tips that exceed the base payment. A typical delivery route may include eight stops in a two-hour period with a base payment of $38, though compensation and routing is set by algorithms and change frequently.

An Amazon spokesperson did not answer detailed questions Wednesday about the ongoing issues drivers are reporting, or about its policies for tipping.

Some sympathetic customers, who have become aware of the problem, have shown some drivers evidence of tips they paid. Others have started tipping in cash, drivers and customers said.

A driver in Hawaii said a customer showed a fellow driver there evidence of a single tip that was higher than the tip adjustment Amazon paid for that route, which had eight other stops, all of which likely tipped.

“Amazon is ripping us off,” said the Hawaii driver. He added that he and his colleagues were “stunned” and felt “powerless” to recover their earnings from one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated businesses.

This is at least the third time this year Amazon has botched the payment of customer tips to drivers in its Flex program. A company spokesperson said last week that the latest incident was unrelated to the previous two, which drivers said occurred in March and July.

Some drivers were not surprised by another breakdown in tip payments, and what they saw as an unsuccessful attempt to fix it. For others, the issue was imperiling rent payments and causing them to look elsewhere for work as the pandemic continues and grocery delivery demand grows with the upcoming holiday season.

Ben, the Seattle-area driver, said this latest “major paycheck error” is having “dire consequences for those struggling just to get by. … As it stands now, many of us drivers are asking themselves if it’s worth the risk of not getting paid on time, or even at all.”

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©2020 The Seattle Times