A key Democratic senator has weighed in on Amazon’s fast-growing package delivery network, calling the giant retailer’s practice of denying liability for dangerous crashes and worker abuses “as heartless as it is morally bankrupt” and urging federal regulators to “wake up” and “take on Big Tech and its perverse ‘at all costs’ focus on its balance sheet.”
The comments by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the top Democrat on the Senate’s Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, come a day after presidential candidate Andrew Yang called for increased regulation of Amazon’s gigantic, decentralized delivery system.
In a statement, Amazon said it was "simply untrue to assert we don't take responsibility for our actions."
"In fact," the statement said, "it's just the opposite—we have requirements for safety, comprehensive insurance, competitive wages, working hours and numerous other safeguards for our delivery service partners which we regularly audit for compliance."
Both politicians spoke out in response to a BuzzFeed News investigation of Amazon, which uses hundreds of independent contractors around the US to deliver an increasingly large share of its packages. The investigation, published last week, spotlighted the ways in which Amazon has created a legal separation between itself and the drivers who carry its boxes and envelopes on what’s known as the “final mile” of the trip to America’s doorsteps. By using contractors, Amazon has successfully argued in court and before regulators that it is not responsible for property damage, injuries, or even death caused by crashes and that it also cannot be liable for worker abuses. In addition, because most, if not all, of the vans these contractors use fall below federal weight limits, they are not subject to Department of Transportation oversight, unlike the majority of FedEx or UPS trucks.
On Wednesday, ProPublica and the New York Times published their own investigation into Amazon’s delivery network. It identified more than 60 accidents involving Amazon delivery contractors since June of 2015 that resulted in serious injuries, including 10 deaths.
“Our federal watchdogs responsible for protecting workers and consumers, enforcing labor and product safety laws, and cracking down on anti-competitive practices must wake up,” Blumenthal told BuzzFeed News. “It’s time to take on Big Tech and its perverse ‘at all costs’ focus on its balance sheet.”
The senator, who could be appointed chair of the powerful subcommittee overseeing trade and consumer protection if the Democrats retake the Senate next year, added that “one of the largest companies in the world cannot be allowed to continually pass the buck.”
“Amazon has a duty to vigorously and proactively monitor the companies it does business with and ensure its contractors are following labor laws and safety regulations,” he said. “It’s unacceptable to turn the other way as drivers are forced into unsafe vehicles and given dangerous workloads.”
In its statement, Amazon said it already has such safeguards in place. "We require that all delivery service partners maintain comprehensive insurance, including auto liability," the statement said. "So if in the rare case an accident does occur, there is coverage for all involved.