High-Flying Drones and Basement Wages

Postal clerks’ work is being outsourced to low-paid Staples employees, but Staples isn't the half of it. Such companies as Amazon, Google, Walmart, and rideshare company Uber are undercutting unionized delivery jobs at every turn. Photo: Jim West, jimwestphoto.com.

Their employer is the US Postal Service, but a few unlucky Bay Area letter carriers were hired only to find out their job is actually delivering groceries for online retailer Amazon at 4 a.m.

It’s an experimental program being staffed with City Carrier Assistants–the lowest tier of union letter carriers, permatemps who make $15-17 an hour. To find their way in the dark they’re issued miner-style headlamps.

“Some carriers hear about the program and they quit,” says longtime letter carrier Angela Bibb-Merritt. “They were under the impression they were going to be carrying mail and working in the daytime.” She worries people could be attacked and robbed, carrying groceries around at such a lonely hour.

You’ll hear no such worries in the breathless tech press, abuzz about experiments in package delivery. The grocery setup is unusual in that it relies on postal workers (though the lowest-paid ones). But most of these schemes are ways to circumvent the Postal Service and UPS.

Cuts to postal jobs and facilities are making existing service worse, helping create niche openings that for-profits are exploiting. Call it privatization by a thousand cuts.

If you work sorting, trucking, or delivering packages, are Amazon, Google, Walmart, and rideshare company Uber coming after your job next?

The Real “Drones”

E-commerce giant Amazon relies heavily on UPS and the Postal Service, but seems to be looking to change that. Its much-hyped trials of robot delivery drones (aviation regulators have put a hold on that for now) are the least of it. The company is testing out ways to replace union workers for every leg of a parcel’s trip.

For instance, it’s opening its own “sortation” plants to facilitate Sunday and holiday delivery, 15 of them this year. “When you see us announcing Sunday delivery, you can assume a sortation center is close by,” Vice President Mike Roth told the Seattle Times.

The function of these plants to sort packages by zip code so they’re trucked to the right post office for delivery–cutting out UPS and Postal Service sorting and trucking.

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