Tuesday, November 26, 2013, by Samuel Williams
Online retail giant Amazon.com, Inc. faces threats on a daily basis. Threats from its competitors, from the state of the economy and even from its own workers. In 2012 an employee working at an Amazon distribution facility in southern California stole 726 iPod touch players and 49 laptops worth approximately $160,000. Incidences like this have led Amazon to implement new security measures and checkpoints in its distribution warehouses. The security measures may involve physically searching employees’ bags or forcing them to be screened by a metal detector when entering and leaving the facility.
Employees subjected to these search methods are working their 40 hours and then not getting paid for the additional 10 to 20 minutes they spend standing in line each day.
While most security checks take approximately 10 minutes, because most employees take lunch breaks and finish work at the same time, leaving and entering the building can take up to half-an-hour. Considering that employees are forced to undergo these measures both on their way out and on the way back in the security checkpoints have the potential to subsume the majority of an individual’s unpaid lunch break. As one employee described her experience, “you’re just standing there, and everyone just wants to get home. It was not comfortable.” Workers complain that at a minimum they spend “40 minutes a week and often more being screened for stolen goods or contraband.”
The employees concern however, isn’t with the searches themselves, though they have plenty of complaints about those as well, it’s that during this time they aren’t being paid. In response to what workers and their attorneys are claiming as a violation of federal law, current and past Amazon employees have begun to file suit. Thus far class-action suits on behalf of Amazon employees have been filed in Kentucky, Tennessee, Washington State, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. The thrust of the claim is that under the U.S. Federal Minimum Wage Act, employees must receive time and a half pay for each hour they work over 40 hours per week. Employees subjected to these search methods are working their 40 hours and then not getting paid for the additional 10 to 20 minutes they spend standing in line each day.
While arguing over 10 to 20 minutes of additional pay each day may seem petty, employees at these distributions are paid only $11 per hour and given the amount of people employed by these distribution centers (the three dozen Amazon “fulfillment centers” in the US, employee more than 20,000 people) the numbers start to add up. One class action suit in Pennsylvania is claiming more than $50,000 in damages. According to David Garrison, an attorney representing employees in three of the suits, “[w]e’re bringing as many of these cases as we can because we think we’re right on the law, and we think these workers are being underpaid[.]” While the most recent round of litigation has focused on Amazon, in recent years similar suits have been filed on behalf of Apple and Best Buy workers. In the case of Best Buy employees, the case was settled for a $900,000 collective settlement. While it is unsure whether Amazon employees will receive a similar outcome to those of Best Buy, what is sure is that with the holiday season approaching and the hiring of seasonal workers, the lines can only get longer.