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Becoming Employees: Race and Skill in the Degradation of Delivery Driving

Authors: Kyle Loewen*,
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: Labor, Retail, Logistics, Racialization
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

With online retail’s growth, retailers must now sell delivery in addition to the goods that are being delivered. This commodification of consumer delivery is fundamentally altering retail markets’ preconditions and forcing carriers to improve services while reducing costs. As a result, carriers are restructuring their network operations and labor processes. I investigate carriers’ restructuring for e-commerce through the case of FedEx. In 2014 FedEx began switching from an independent contractor (IC) labor model, where drivers owned and operated routes, to a subcontracting labor model where multi-route contractors hire drivers as employees. FedEx’s IC model had worked to segment racialized low-wage workers out of driving jobs by requiring large sums of capital to purchase routes. By reclassifying drivers as employees, FedEx reduced this segmentation while simultaneously redefining this work as unskilled. This re-articulation of race and skill in delivery work enabled FedEx to simultaneously reduce drivers’ wages, increase productivity requirements, and produce consumer delivery at the scales retailers’ demanded. Drawing on Marion Werner’s analysis of gender in the restructuring global production networks, I concluded by arguing that racialized labor plays a constitutive in reconstructing retail markets for online shopping.

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