Amazon’s Xmas Gift From U.S. Supreme Court

red bow

The nation’s high court ruled unanimously this week that warehouse workers aren’t entitled to pay for the half hour they spend being screened for theft at the end of their work shifts.

It’s another blow against low-wage workers by the most  pro-business, anti-employee U.S. Supreme Court in recent history.

The opinion, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, held that the time the workers spent waiting to be screened isn’t an integral and indispensable part of their jobs. Thomas writes the workers were hired to take products off the shelves and package them for shipment to Amazon’s customers, not to go through security screenings. The Court ruled the screenings “are not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment.”

The ruling, in the case of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, allows the company to force workers to stand in line without pay at the end of each shift to go through the humiliating process of emptying their pockets and walking through metal detectors.  And the company has no incentive to reduce the wait-time by adding staff to expedite the process.  Integrity Staffing Solutions operates two warehouses in Las Vegas and Fernley, NV, that serve as storage and order-filling facilities for the online retail giant

Two of Integrity’s hourly workers sued the company after it began requiring all workers to go through screening before they left the premises, a policy designed to deter theft of goods. The workers alleged they could spend 20 to 25 minutes in unpaid time waiting to leave their shifts because there weren’t enough screeners.

The high court’s ruling reversed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that Integrity must pay overtime for the screening process because the after-work review was a job requirement that was for the company’s benefit.

The Court ruled that the U.S. Congress passed the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 to  exempt employers from liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act  of 1938 for claims based on “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to” the performance of the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform.  “The security screenings at issue are noncompensable postliminary activities,” ruled the Court.

Thomas notes in his opinion that the U.S. Solicitor General and the U.S. Department of Labor agreed with the Court that the screenings were “noncompensable postliminary activities.”

Of course, Congress could act in response to the Court’s decision and require employers to pay workers for time they are required to spend at work.  Hah!

Meanwhile, around 500 workers at two of German’s Amazon warehouses went on strike Monday morning to protest their pay and working conditions. Union supporters believe the company is misclassifying workers in order to underpay them, and the strikers hope to force the company to raise its starting pay from the current level of nearly $12 an hour. When the Communication Workers of America tried to unionize 400 workers in 2000, Amazon closed the call center they were targeting.

Bah Humbug.

EEOC Discrimination Complaints Down But Why?


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission logged approximately five percent fewer discrimination complaints in Fiscal Year 2014 than the year earlier.

The EEOC received 88,778 private sector charges in FY 2014, compared to 93,727 in 2013 and 99,412 in 2012.

Does this reflect an improving economy or is it a sign of difficulties within the federal agency that is charged with insuring compliance with federal civil rights laws? Or maybe both.

Clearly, 2014 was a difficult year internally for the EEOC.  According to the EEOC’s annual report, the agency resolved  87,442 charges in 2014 which is 9,810 less than it  resolved in 2013.  Meanwhile, the EEOC’s backlog grew and now totals 76,000 cases. The EEOC also suffered withering criticism in federal courts in 2014 – some of it patently unfair –  and it was forced to pay millions of dollars in attorneys fees to the opposing side in ten lawsuits.

There are indications that employment discrimination victims are losing confidence that the federal government will actually do anything about employment discrimination.  The number of employment discrimination claims filed in federal courts also have declined in recent years.  Many attorney refuse to file these cases in federal courts because they are disproportionately dismissed by federal judges.

The EEOC blames its difficulties in 2014 on the government shut-down and a hiring freeze that, coupled with normal attribution, particularly affected its investigatory staff. There were also indications of management woes.  President Obama in September appointed EEOC Vice-Chair Jenny R. Yang to the position of EEOC Chair, replacing Jacqueline Berrien whom Obama appointed in 2009.

Germaine P. Roseboro, the EEOC’s Chief Financial Officer, said the financial outlook is brighter for the EEOC in the year ahead. She states that the EEOC’s FY 2014 appropriation was $20 million more than FY 2013 and the infusion of funds allowed the EEOC to lift a two-year hiring freeze and hire more than 200 external candidates for front-line and support positions. “The agency is on track for restoring its capacity to more effectively meet the EEOC’s mission,” she writes.

However, there are  indicators of yet more trouble ahead for the EEOC in the new Republican-led  Senate and Congress.

GOP  Senators Rand Paul and Lamar Alexander recently blasted the EEOC for investigating companies for engaging in systemic discrimination without first  requiring employees to file formal complaints. Paul, who seems to have virtually no understanding of the dynamics of employment discrimination, was particularly incensed. He asked EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez., “How can you show up to work with a straight face? I don’t understand how you wouldn’t resign immediately, and say, ‘This is abhorrent.’” He also accused Lopez of using the “bully nature” of his agency to “punish business.”  Do Rand and Alexander think the EEOC should ignore employers who refuse to hire workers unless they sign unconscionable contracts that are especially designed to thwart employment discrimination laws? Sadly, it seems so.