Despite the pandemic-driven downturn in the U.S. economy, some companies are thriving.
They include delivery services like UPS, FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service and companies that serve shipping giants like Amazon, all newly vital to tens of millions of Americans in quarantine at home.
But the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak has pulled away a curtain few Americans previously considered: the risks delivery workers must face, just to do their jobs.
Think about it: drivers who deliver hundreds of packages a day are constantly touching things in their vans, on gates and porches and doorknobs — and, of course, the parcels themselves.
Some, like UPS and FedEx workers, receive both health care and protective support from their companies. But others do not, reports Reuters.
“It’s totally laid bare how vulnerable they are,” David Weil, dean of Brandeis University’s school of social policy and management, told Reuters. “We are seeing there are millions of workers, who have no social safety net protections, who are now on the front lines of delivering food and delivering packages.”
One example cited by Reuters is Joseph Alvarado, who delivers Amazon packages in Orange County CA, just south of Los Angeles.
“I’m being exposed,” said Alvarado, 38. “I would think that a company like Amazon that is filthy rich, doing great, not going anywhere anytime soon, would want to take care of its employees.”
However, Alvarado doesn’t really work for Amazon, but for Pacific Key Logistics, which is contracted to make Amazon deliveries.
“Alvarado said the van he drove wasn’t cleaned before or after his 10-hour shift, nor were the bins holding packages handled by warehouse workers and delivery drivers,” Reuters says.
“Yet his company offered no gloves or masks, and only sporadically provided hand sanitizer. Under pressure to meet targets for delivery speed and volume, Alvarado and other drivers say they have little or no time to stop and wash their hands.”
Amazon and other shippers save money by requiring delivery contractors to keep costs low.
Contract drivers who deliver for Amazon are paid a minimum of $15 an hour; Amazon says it requires the delivery companies to offer health care coverage workers, but it’s unclear how much of the cost, if any, is covered by the companies.
“Some drivers say they opt out of the health coverage because they can’t afford the high out-of-pocket costs,” Reuters says.
And drivers aren’t the only ones at risk. Some people receiving deliveries are telling drivers to leave groceries and parcels on the street curb, to minimize the virus threat to themselves.
“The lack of sick pay and supplies can also pose a risk to consumers, especially if drivers show up to work sick or can’t frequently wash their hands,” says epidemiologist Suzanne Judd of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Hand sanitizer is not enough.”