John Oliver slams Amazon for their treatment of truck drivers: 'Ridiculous pace,' 'relentless pressure' – Entertainment Weekly News

"If you got it, a truck brought it to you," Al Pacino's Jimmy Hoffa passionately intones during a key scene of Martin Scorsese's 2019 film The Irishman. That scene takes place in the '60s, but as John Oliver made clear during his Last Week Tonight monologue on Sunday, the basic fact remains the same: Almost all domestic shipping in the United States is still done by truck drivers.
What's different, as Oliver detailed, is that trucking is a much less stable job than it was during the heyday of Hoffa's Teamsters. The job is now more difficult, less protected, and less beneficial — resulting in a nationwide shortage of drivers that only exacerbates the supply chain problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Trucking companies have been quick to complain they're suffering from a shortage of drivers. They've been saying that for a while now," Oliver said. "The truth is, their actual problem is less a matter of driver shortage, and more one of driver retention. Hundreds of thousands of people become truck drivers every year, but hundreds of thousands also quit."
Oliver listed multiple reasons as to why this is the case. For one thing, he explained that drivers are paid by the mile instead of by the hour. This means that drivers aren't paid for the time they spend waiting for their trucks to be loaded and feel the need to make up for that lost time on the road — which can lead to reckless or unsafe driving.
On top of that, truckers are often classified as "independent contractors" instead of "employees," which companies exploit to avoid paying for health care, time off, workers' compensation, and other benefits. Oliver cites FedEx and Amazon as examples of major corporations that misclassify their drivers as "contract service providers" or "delivery service partners" who become responsible for all the costs of truck ownership and maintenance. In a clip borrowed from Frontline, a woman explained that she made $150,000 for a year of truck driving — but after deducting fuel and repair costs, she and her husband were left with a measly $20,000 in earnings by year's end.
"The appeal for Amazon is obvious: Using drivers who aren't direct employees allows them to distance themselves from liability when things go wrong, which they do — particularly given the ridiculous pace that Amazon expects," Oliver said. "You've probably heard all of the stories about drivers having to urinate in bottles because they didn't have time to stop. That speaks to the relentless pressure to deliver hundreds of packages per shift."
Oliver cited a 2019 investigation by BuzzFeed News and ProPublica that reported Amazon's trucking contracts relieve the corporation of responsibility even for lawsuits incurred by unsafe driving. In such cases, the independent contractors are responsible for paying the legal bills — not the giant corporation founded by one of the richest people in the world.
"That actually is only fair. It's not like Jeff Bezos can afford to pay all those lawyers," Oliver noted sarcastically. "He's spending his money on things that truly benefit society, like launching himself into space before disappointing everyone by coming back home safely."
For the elaborate bit that always ends these monologues, Oliver presented a more realistic version of reality shows like Ice Road Truckers. Instead of celebrating the toughness of truckers, such a show would feature couples struggling to pay bills, peeing in bottles while driving, and wasting time during the unpaid hours spent waiting to load.
"What can we do here? Well first, we should probably recognize that we have all gotten used to the idea of free next-day shipping. But crucially, someone somewhere always pays the price," Oliver said. "Second, the work arrangements that drivers endure, and the fundamental lack of value placed on their time, clearly needs to be addressed."
What Oliver didn't mention, probably since it happened two days before the broadcast of this monologue, is that Amazon workers succeeded for the first time at unionizing one of the company's warehouses last week. Such a victory could perhaps lead eventually to workplace improvements not just for warehouse workers, but for truckers as well.
Watch the full segment above.
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