Amazon’s Free Lunch

AmazonA recent federal court decision offers a glimpse into the miserly working conditions of hourly workers at two national distribution centers for Amazon.com in Nevada.

Two workers, Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, filed a class action lawsuit in 2010 arguing that they should be paid for the 25 minutes it takes them to depart the Amazon distribution warehouse at the end of their shift. They said workers must stand in line for a security clearance that requires them to remove their wallets,  keys and belts and walk through a metal detector.  

Busk and Castro are former employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., which provides warehouse space and staffing to Amazon.com in Fernley and Las Vegas.  

The workers also argued they should be paid for their 30-minute lunch break because they had to pass through a security clearance when they left the factory floor and it took ten minutes to get to and from the cafeteria.  Also, they said, supervisors frequently “reminded” them during the lunch period to “finish their meal period quickly so that they would clock back in on time.”  

An appeals court panel ruled on April 12 that the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) requires workers to be compensated for the time spent undergoing the security clearance at the end of their shift but does not require compensation for time deducted from their 30-minute lunch break.

In Busk, et al v. Integrity Staffing Solution ,a three-judge panel for  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the time the spent on the security clearance at the end of the day was necessary to employees’ primary work as warehouse employees filling orders placed through Amazon.com. Also, the panel wrote,  “Integrity allegedly requires the screening to prevent employee theft, a concern that stems from the nature of the employees’ work (specifically, their access to merchandise).”

 However, the appeals court panel ruled the workers’ lunch-break time was not compensable under the FLSA because it was not integral and indispensable to the workers’ principal activity of filling orders placed through Amazon.com.  

The panel contended that any time spent by workers going through the security clearance during the lunch break was “de minimus” or too inconsequential to require compensation.   The panel noted that employees claimed they were required to pass through the security check only on their way to the cafeteria and “not on the return trip. The relatively minimal time expended on the clearance in this context differs from the 25-minute delay alleged for employees passing through security at day’s end.”

Finally, the panel writes, “That supervisors may have ‘interrupted’ Busk and Castro …  does not make their lunch periods compensable absent any claim that they performed a work duty.”

While throwing out the federal FLSA claim, the appellate panel did say the workers’ could raise a state law claim they asserted in the appeal with respect to their shortened lunch period.  The plaintiffs argued that workers have greater protection under a Nevada law that requires that an employer provide a half-hour meal break if it employs a worker for a continuous eight-hour period.

The panel reversed a lower court’s pre-trial dismissal of the case and remanded the case back to the district court for further consideration.   

The panel noted that Busk and Castro did not claim the walk to and from the cafeteria deprived them of adequate time to eat lunch.  “We express no view on whether such a claim is cognizable under FLSA, nor on whether the plaintiffs could amend their complaint to state a valid claim under FLSA. We leave that to the district court’s consideration on remand,” the panel states

 

Work & ABC’s Modern Family

What’s so modern about ABC’s  hit comedy, Modern Family?

None of the caregivers on the show have an outside job. One is  comfortably ensconced in the affluent middle class with her realtor husband and three children, and the other, a young Colombian woman, is married to a rich guy at least 25 years her senior, and lives in a mansion with her trophy husband and her young son.  Even the male who has the principle childcare role in the gay relationship stays home to care for the couple’s adopted baby!

If this were truly a modern family, there would be issues relating to the difficulties of working while  being in a loving relationship and raising a family in America in 2011.

A one-income family with children is a rarity today.  Between 2008 and 2010, the number of stay-at-home mothers fell from 5.3 million to 5 million. (Stay-at-home dads held steady at around 150,000.)

If the show was a bit more realistic and portrayed six working adults, at least one, possibly two, would be bullied by a supervisor.  They would be experiencing  potentially severe emotional stress and anxiety and fearing termination  in this poor economy. Their angst would spill over to their relationships with their significant others and children, in turn causing them angst. And it might even drive the target to drink!

Possibly the family depends upon the partner’s income to pay the mortgage, light bill, or school tuition payments. All of these things ultimately would be threatened by the bully.

The women would be paid 20 percent less than their male counterparts for the same work – and significantly less than women workers without children who didn’t take time off from their careers. These parents would be  forced to make endless difficult no-win choices between their work and their children.   Many working moms even today come home each day to start their second “job” of running the household – making dinner, cleaning, and taking care of the kids.

Let’s get real.  Half of all relationships end in divorce.  These at-home spouses do not appear to have any jobs skills and/or they’ve taken significant time out of their careers. Are they completely clueless about what is going on out there?  According to a 2011 research report by the Family Research Council:

  • Mothers who were not in the workforce before the divorce are very likely to experience poverty following their divorce.
  • Divorcing or separating mothers are 2.83 times more likely to be in poverty than those who remain married.
  • Following a divorce, the parent (usually mom) with custody of the children experiences a 52 percent drop in his or her family income.

It’s not a pretty picture for the children either.  The FRC says the children of divorced mothers are less likely to earn incomes in the top third of the income distribution, regardless of where in the income distribution their parents’ income fell.

But none of this is occurs in the magical land of  automatic sprinklers of Modern Family, which, come to think of it, is just about as modern as Leave It to Beaver, Daddy Knows Best, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Let’s just hope the girls  and boys who watch the show each week do not believe what they see, and expect that they too can be part of an affluent one-income household in a posh suburb where a white knight brings home a fat paycheck every week.

I don’t want to pick on Modern Family, which is a sit-com, and funny at that.

Just sayin’