With two days until Christmas, Amazon said that its last-mile delivery network is on track to drop 3.5 billion packages globally this year.

The Santa Claus-level logistics of that effort involved 175 fulfillment centers and 150 Amazon delivery stations in the United States, which employ 9,000 workers.

Delivery stations are the last waypoint between Amazon’s distribution centers and shoppers’ homes. In San Antonio, those delivery stations are located at 6422 E. Campus Drive, on the Northeast Side of town near Rolling Oaks Mall, and 1120 N. Foster Road, east of town near Interstate 10.

A sea of navy blue Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans are parked in these locations and service Amazon’s last-mile delivery program. They are some of the 20,000 total Sprinter vans Amazon said it purchased in September, a month after ending its contract with FedEx, for operation by third-party courier companies.

A spokeswoman for the company that manages Rolling Oaks Mall, Washington Prime Group (WPG), confirmed that the mall leases property to Amazon for its delivery vans but would not reveal when the contract began. Rolling Oaks is home to more than 100 brick-and-mortar stores.

“Washington Prime Group’s properties are embracing Amazon as a way to bring convenience and flexibility to our guests, while bringing the online world into a physical space,” she said in an email.

“At Rolling Oaks Mall, WPG has partnered with Amazon to provide space for last-mile distribution, and we are currently working on creating a new, dedicated area within the parking lot for this multi-year partnership.”

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to provide many details about the arrangement, though she said one of San Antonio’s two delivery stations opened in fall 2019, “which is why you may have noticed additional Prime vans in the area.”

Amazon vehicles are lined up in a staging area outside of Sears at Rolling Oaks Mall.

Those guarded responses are in keeping with how Amazon tends to do business. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has reportedly said, “I never think of us as secretive. We’re just quiet.”

But local drivers for the Amazon Flex program, which uses contract employees to deliver packages using their own vehicles, told the Rivard Report they have a lot to say, as some are unhappy with how they are treated while others appreciate the opportunity.

The Amazon website advertises that drivers can make between $18 and $25 an hour. Flex drivers pick up and deliver packages much the same way Uber and Lyft drivers transport people – using an app that allows them to select blocks of time, between three and five hours long, and the delivery station and delivery areas they want.

One Flex driver said the delivery station that opened in the fall is the one near the mall, which is also known as DSX1.

In addition to the two delivery stations in San Antonio, Flex drivers also make deliveries from Whole Foods in Alamo Heights and for Amazon Prime and Amazon Fresh services.

During one three-hour afternoon block, a driver named Wendy said she could deliver about 38 packages and, in an evening block, about 20 to 30. But there are times when drivers accept a block and show up at a delivery station only to find there are no packages to deliver.

They get paid anyway, she said, and because it’s a rare event, the drivers call it a “unicorn.”

“I do this kind of work because it allows me the freedom to work when I want to and allows me to be home after school for my daughter and make as much money working half of the time as most people do working a 40-hour-week job,” Wendy said.

Nevertheless, there are challenges to the job. Wendy gets frustrated over the fact the company doesn’t provide Flex drivers adequate support for problems with the app or for finding a delivery location, and she believes drivers should be paid for the fuel they use.

She also feels Amazon doesn’t care about its drivers because often women drivers are sent to “not-so-great areas” late at night.

Most of the drivers who talked to the Rivard Report asked that their full name not be published. “Because they can and might deactivate me,” Wendy said.

Charlotte Cruz shared that concern but felt more confident in maintaining her status because of the quality of her work. “I get customer reviews weekly about how great I do and all my stats are 100 percent,” she said.

Cruz drives for Amazon Flex because she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and can’t predict what she called “episodes,” she said. With the Amazon gig, there’s “no boss to call in and explain I feel weird. I just drop my block.”

Bryan K. said that while he works full time as vice president of commercial real estate risk management for one of the largest banks in the world, he drives for Amazon Flex because it provides a needed distraction.

“Although my divorce was finalized almost 10 years ago, I still have a very difficult time when my kids are with their mother,” he said. “I have healthy coping mechanisms … but the quiet of them being away still hurts. Flex ameliorates some of the sadnesses.”

Rather than sitting in an empty, quiet house, Bryan said, he takes on two to three blocks a week and listens to audiobooks and podcasts while he drives.

William Pope, age 67, was driving for Amazon Flex and Prime as well as Uber, Lyft, and H-E-B home delivery until a year ago when his Social Security and retirement benefits kicked in and he retired from the gig economy. Prior to that, he held a Class A commercial driver’s license and worked as a tanker driver and dispatcher.

“In 2018, I had 133 delivery time blocks totaling 847 hours in about 115 days of work,” Pope said. “Average pay for those days: $76.74 a day.”

During the two-and-a-half years Pope was a Flex driver, he delivered more than 15,000 packages.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.