Chronicles from Peak Season at [a major U.S. shipping company] as Package Handler
Boss gave me a three-page printout first thing. A list of the routes and the drivers. Intrigued. Skimmed it. Confused because the routes weren't attributed to single individuals, but instead, generic delivery companies.
Example: Routes 201 through 253 and 280 through 296: "Dave Miller's San Diego Fast Delivery Services."
Each day I stage packages on pallets behind the truck of a delivery driver I see and talk with. Have always thought that these hard-working, friendly people owned their routes. Have always known [major U.S. shipping company] delivery drivers are officially independent contractors, but had always believed each one of those friendly men (I have not seen one female driver my entire time there) owned their route.
I took a double-look at those handouts. Disillusion confirmed. Boss took away the handouts half-hour later.
Engaged Jose, a driver, in conversation during a lull.
"Hey, do you own your route?"
"No, I work for Dave."
Dave is a red-haired, tall man who is always talking to drivers in small huddles. Little did I know why. I had always presumed drivers simply gravitated towards him because was good at solving the types of problems that arise for drivers inside the dock.
"So do you get paid by the hour then?"
"After 120 stops [deliveries], we get paid $1 more per package. I take home about $650 per week. It ain't bad, considering that we're done with work at about 3:30[pm]." And he's there, at the dock, from about 6am. That's a nine and a half-hour day, not including the commute.
"How many guys own their own routes here?" I surmise about 120 drivers during peak season.
"Oh, very few. Maybe 5."
All of this makes sense now. Considering that you need to buy, or rent, a delivery truck, and that you need other commodities, like insurance, a person needs a decent sum of seed capital to get started. Many of the drivers are young bucks, many Latinos. Young bucks generally don't have seed capital.
Later I'm talking with Ron, my buddy and co-worker. We're both stressing it because Chandra has already asked us twice if we want to go home yet at just under two hours of work. We tell her no, knowing that at some point she's just going to stop asking, and look for something to do.
"Man, what happened to the good ol' days when you were guaranteed a certain number of hours!?"
Ron is in his late fifties.
"Those days are long gone! Today is all about "efficiency!" "the bottom line!"
"Man, I've been at jobs where even if things are slow, you just slow down. You don't get asked to leave!"
"And during the peak, we put out. Put out like a good hooker."
"Well even during the course of the day. I mean, just an hour ago, we were hustling and now that it's slow they just want us to leave!?"
"Hey! Did you know that all these drivers are Independent Contractors?"
"Yeah. It sucks! My wife told me that I should try to get a full-time job as a driver, but she didn't know how things work around here. I told her that the drivers here are IC's. They are not guaranteed anything, they're not guaranteed hours, they have no benefits. If one of them gets hurt, they don't have anything! It's rough!"
"I knew from the beginning that they were IC's but today I found out that most of these drivers don't even own their own routes."
Ron looked at me interested. Curious.
"I talked to Jose about it. Man! I thought it was bad enough to do this as an IC, but to be the employee of an IC? How much must that suck?"
Almost one hour later (Ron had long ago been "asked to leave") I clocked out and joined a small crowd of other package handlers (many of them in their late late teens and early twenties).
Bo, a young, energetic Latino was happy about the size of his paycheck.
"Yeah, $237 dollars! Too bad this is going to be the last fat paycheck. Next week's gonna be like $100 again."
His co-worker showed him his paycheck which was $250.
"Dang! You rollin!" exclaimed Bo.
"But it's because I'm earning $13 per hour."
"You know, I'm almost at 1000 hours. As soon as I get it I'm applying for benefits. They take it out of your paycheck, a dollar something for dental, two dollars and a bit for health. Dat's good!" said Bo, while dragging on a Marlboro.
Just as he did this, a driver in glamorous pearl white Lexus sedan with completely tinted windows and designer wheels made its way out of the large [major U.S. shipping company] driveway.
When Bo took stock of the car he began a sort of celebration of this fellow person's luxury car. The two other young men around him agreed and joined him. They all looked at the speeding car with lustful eyes, likely hoping to one day own one just like it.
"That's Dave there. Dat man owns trucks, dat man owns contracts, dat man has monay!"