This is Why They Use Subcontractors

Matthew G. Saroff
4 min readSep 23, 2022

One of the features of Amazon’s business model is that it relies fairly heavily on contractors. This is not because contractors are inherently cheaper than Amazon executing on its own, but because Amazon can coerce the contractors into cutting corners and behaving dangerously without incurring any liability for Bezos’ not-so-little monster:

Amazon.com Inc. has rapidly built a sprawling network to move merchandise around the nation’s highways. Many of the trucking companies it hired for all that driving are more dangerous than their peers, sometimes fatally so.

They include one company whose driver was found with a crack pipe after running an Amazon trailer into a Minnesota ditch. He was convicted of driving while high. Another driver hauling Amazon freight was involved in a fatal accident in Kansas after losing control while braking — two months after his employer ignored a police order to fix the truck’s brakes, police reports show.

A third driver at another company had two crashes during a single trip between Amazon warehouses, ultimately careening across a Wyoming highway into an oncoming truck, killing its driver.

All three companies received unsafe driving scores that raised red flags at the U.S. Transportation Department, a Wall Street Journal analysis of government data found. Between February 2020 and early August 2022, more than 1,300 Amazon trucking contractors received scores worse than the level at which DOT officials typically take action, the Journal found. DOT scores are a widely used industry standard for assessing trucker safety.

Trucking contractors that worked frequently for Amazon were more than twice as likely as all other similar companies to receive bad unsafe driving scores, the Journal analysis found. About 39% of the frequent Amazon contractors in the Journal’s analysis received scores at that level.

Trucking companies hauling freight for Amazon have been involved in crashes that killed more than 75 people since 2015, according to the Journal’s review.

Amazon controls its contractors down to the individual route on a day to day basis, so this is not something that just happens, it is something that Amazon, and Jeff Bezos, have consciously decided to do to boost profit margins.

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E-commerce has boomed in recent years, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting Amazon to expand its logistics arm. It has bought or leased about 63,000 trailers since 2015, and hundreds of trucks to pull them, according to regulatory filings and the company.

It hires outside companies to drive the loads, which in August totaled more than 1.5 million, according to Amazon. The market for long-haul truckers is highly fragmented, and attention to safety varies by company.

One trucking company that worked exclusively for Amazon, the now-defunct Condor Riders Corp., had an unsafe driving score that placed it among the most dangerous trucking companies in the nation in March and April 2020, the DOT data show. The government scores are based on speeding tickets and other infractions.

Remember, this is Amazon. They put cameras in their contractors’ trucks to ensure that drivers are not taking too long for a pee break. That they would not know this is absurd.

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Mr. DasGupta [Steve DasGupta, safety director of Amazon Freight] also disagreed with the Journal’s approach of looking at contractors scores over a period of more than two years, arguing a company’s current monthly score best captures its safety performance over time.

The Journal’s analysis focused on 3,512 trucking companies that were inspected by authorities three or more times while hauling trailers for Amazon since February 2020. That group carried 75% of Amazon tractor-trailer shipments documented in records of government inspections, which include routine compliance checks, such as at weigh stations, and traffic stops.

The data show companies that “frequently haul Amazon’s freight are systematically more likely to have poor driving safety scores,” said Jason Miller, a Michigan State University professor who studies transportation safety and validated the Journal’s methodology and findings. The result, he said, is that “American motorists are put at greater risk.” (See related story for the Journal’s full methodology.)

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Many companies won’t hire trucking firms with a “conditional” rating or lower, industry officials say. MJS continued to pull Amazon trailers at least until September 2021, inspection records show. At the time, Amazon required trucking contractors to have safety ratings better than conditional, the company said.

Yeah sure, somehow the company that tracks its workers to the individual step missed this.

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Truck operators such as United Parcel Service Inc. keep such serious safety violations low. Since early 2020, state inspectors and police cited UPS for tractor-trailer drivers who kept false logs of driving hours in fewer than one in a thousand inspections. By contrast, they flagged Amazon contractors at a rate about 70 times higher. UPS drivers are employees who receive salaries, rather than contractors who often are paid by the mile.

So, notwithstanding Amazon’s protestations, other shippers can maintain safe operations, because they don’t f%$#ing cut corners, and don’t abuse their workers as badly.

This is a choice, and a criminally negligent choice at that. Allowing Amazon to hide behind contractors, and to allow the commerce behemoth to get away with slap on the wrist fines and judgements is not enough.

People like Jeff Bezos and Mr. DasGupta need to be frog-marched out of their corporate offices in handcuffs.

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