Amazon Looks to Use More Contractors for Grocery Delivery Inc. Prime Deliveries As Workers Demand Better Pay

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg Inc. is experimenting with a new program that pays independent contractors to fetch groceries from shelves in Whole Foods stores and deliver them in their own vehicles.

The move may reduce the online retail giant’s reliance on employees who are eligible for medical insurance, sick pay and other benefits.

Amazon is encouraging Flex drivers — contractors who make deliveries in their own cars — to try the new program. These people currently drive groceries to customers’ homes, while the products are gathered and bagged in stores by Amazon employees earning at least $15 an hour. The test will require Flex drivers to do the picking and packing, too, according to correspondence reviewed by Bloomberg.

If the program catches on, it could help Amazon control costs by limiting the number of employees who are eligible for benefits. It also gives the company flexibility to adjust to spikes in demand since it can summon more Flex drivers for individual jobs quicker than it can hire and train new employees.

Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On a website describing the new Shop and Deliver program, the company said it will provide Flex drivers “with a new flexible earnings opportunity.”

Gig-economy jobs have been criticized for low pay and a lack of benefits. But demand for these roles has increased as millions of people lose full-time jobs in the pandemic-fueled recession. Use of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft is down, which has pushed many drivers to seek work delivering online orders from stores and restaurants.

Read more: Amazon Drivers Are Hanging Smartphones in Trees to Get More Work

While the new program appears to be partly designed to limit full-time employees, Amazon also announced plans on Monday to hire 100,000 workers

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Opinion | We should be just as careful about covid-19 in relatives’ homes as we are in grocery stores

As the fall school term approached, universities thought that they could effectively implement similar protocols on campus. They instituted safeguards including reduced class size, improved classroom ventilation and daily symptom checks. The problem? Students got infected when they engaged in risky behaviors off-campus. At the University of New Hampshire, 11 cases were traced to a fraternity party hosting about 100 guests without masks. Medical degrees apparently provide no guarantee of safe gathering: A single party resulted in covid-19 infections in 18 anesthesiology residents and fellows training at the University of Florida.

At K-12 institutions, the hard work administrators and teachers are doing to enforce mask-wearing and physical distancing will be undone if kids gather after school without similar protections. The risk extends to parents, and increases as families come together with friends and relatives with whom they are likely to let down their guard.

I spoke this week with several public health officials from different parts of the country who noted this same trend. “In the beginning, we focused our efforts on homeless shelters, jails and workplaces that the city has the ability to regulate and enforce,” said Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “But over the last few months, only 5 to 6 percent of our cases are being linked to these congregate settings.” She identified the current primary source of spread as informal social gatherings: barbecues, retirement parties and birth celebrations.

Nilesh Kalyanaraman, health officer for Anne Arundel County in Maryland, agrees. He said to me that when his team looks at the data, “We see that family gatherings are coming up as one of the biggest sources of spread.”

Why? “There’s a lot of magical thinking when it comes to covid,” Arwady said. “It’s natural to feel safe among those you know

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