The nation’s high court ruled unanimously this week that Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com.
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.