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Amazon’s new ‘Flex’ delivery scheme is like Uber for packages

Amazon has just launched an Uber-like delivery system offering regular folks the chance to deliver packages using their own cars for $18 to $25 an hour.

Rumors that the e-commerce giant was planning to enlist the likes of you and me to get ordered items to Prime members first surfaced back in June. On Tuesday, the company unveiled the new scheme, called Amazon Flex.

Flex works with Amazon’s super-speedy Prime Now offering where customers can get one- and two-hour delivery on tens of thousands of items, with drivers able to choose between two-, four-, and eight-hour shifts. Besides a car, workers must also have an Android phone for managing deliveries via the Flex app (no iOS version yet), and pass a background check.

Gig economy

Similar to other “gig economy” services such as Uber and Postmates, Amazon says Flex lets you “be your own boss: deliver when you want, as much as you want.”

While such set-ups can offer a certain amount of flexibility for workers (ah, that’s where Amazon got the name), some of the companies running them have come under fire for not providing benefits such as health insurance, paid sick days, and workers’ compensation for work-related injuries and lost income.

Uber, for example, is facing a class-action lawsuit in California that’s aiming to get the ride-hailing company to recognize its drivers as full-fledged employees and not simply as independent contractors, as the company currently classifies them. The current system also means drivers have to take on the cost of vehicle repairs, insurance, and gas.

Of course, treating employees in this way leads companies like Uber to greater profits that can then be plowed back into the business, a factor that’s assisted Uber’s rapid expansion around the world.

Related: Amazon to feed Prime members via new restaurant delivery service

For Amazon, Flex reduces its reliance on outside shipping companies, giving it more control over the delivery operation. Whether it comes under fire in the same way as other other gig-economy services remains to be seen.

Flex is up and running now in Amazon’s home city of Seattle, though the company is also looking for part-time drivers in Manhattan, Baltimore, Miami, Dallas, Austin, Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Portland in preparation for launches in these cities, too.