Amazon to pay drivers $61.7m after US probe showed it kept tips

The online retail giant promised 100 percent of tips from shoppers would go to Flex drivers, but instead used some of the gratuities to pay drivers’ hourly wages, a US Federal Trade Commission probe found.

Amazon diverted almost a third of customers' tips to drivers' wages, stopping the practice only after becoming aware of the FTC probe in August 2019, the agency said [File: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg] Inc. will pay $61.7 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission finding that the company withheld tips meant for Flex delivery drivers for more than two years.

Despite pledging to drivers and shoppers that Flex drivers would receive 100% of the value of tips, the world’s largest online retailer used a portion of the gratuities to pay the basic hourly rate for the on-demand package delivery program, the regulator said on Tuesday.

Flex, launched in 2015, invites independent contractors to deliver packages from their own vehicles. Amazon promised drivers a pay rate of $18 to $25 an hour and the full value of their tips.

But in late 2016, without disclosing the change to drivers or shoppers, the company started paying drivers a lower rate and using the tips to make up the difference.

After drivers began wondering why their overall pay had decreased, hundreds complained to the company, according to the FTC, which said employees described Amazon’s handling of the change as a “reputation tinderbox” and “huge PR risk.”

Amazon diverted almost a third of customer tips to driver wages, stopping the practice only after becoming aware of the FTC probe in August 2019, the agency said. Under the terms of the settlement, the FTC will use the $61.7 million to compensate drivers who lost tips. Drivers can sign up for email updates on the refund process at the FTC’s website.

”While we disagree that the historical way we reported pay to drivers was unclear, we added additional clarity in 2019 and are pleased to put this matter behind us,” Amazon spokesperson Rena Lunak said in an emailed statement. “Amazon Flex delivery partners play an important role in serving customers every day, which is why they earn among the best in the industry at over $25 per hour on average.”

Under the settlement, Amazon will be prohibited from misrepresenting to drivers details about their pay rate and tips.

Source: Bloomberg