Amazon Employees Demand Pay for Waiting in Line

Amazon warehouse workers want to be paid for time going through security checks to leave work.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek gives the delightful headline “Amazon Warehouse Workers Want to Be Paid for Waiting in Line” to a story that begins:

Amazon.com warehouses are full of stuff people like. To cut down on theft, workers who box and ship it are required to pass through security checkpoints after their shifts, waiting in lines that can take almost 30 minutes to get through.

On Oct. 8 the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether that time counts as work. In 2010 two former employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, a temp agency that supplies workers at many of Amazon’s U.S. warehouses, sued the company demanding back pay for the time they spent in security lines after clocking out at Amazon warehouses in Nevada. The security checks, the plaintiffs argued, were required by Integrity and therefore part of the job. (Amazon-employed workers go through the same checks.)

This seems like a no-brainer to me: of course they should be paid for this. Precedent seems to be on their side:

At issue is the scope of a 1947 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act that says employers don’t have to pay for time spent on work-related activities like getting to or from the office. Nine years later, the Supreme Court established in a pair of rulings that the key is whether the activity in question is “integral and indispensable” to the principal activities workers are paid to do. Butchers at a meatpacking plant, the court found, had to be paid for time spent sharpening their knives, and workers at a battery plant deserved compensation for time spent showering after work to wash off traces of sulfuric acid and lead.

I’ve been an exempt employee my entire working life, so never had to deal with this sort of thing. In my current job, which is on Marine Corps Base Quantico, I have to go through ID check at the gate every morning. Sometimes, that’s a 3-minute burden; sometimes, that’s a 25-minute burden. There’s no predicting which. Were I an hourly employee, I’d think that I’d be entitled to be paid for that time.

In the case of the Amazon employees, the case is even more clear. They’re being trapped at the office undergoing procedures specifically required by their employer. They should rather obviously clock out once they’re on the other side and free to leave.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Law and the Courts, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. David in KC says:

    James, you may want to re-read that last line. I think you mean clock.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    I too was an exempt employee most of my working life.The one exception is when I worked for the Japanese company NEC. I used to travel to Japan frequently and was paid from the time I left my house until I arrived at my hotel in Yokohama. When I returned I was paid from the time I left my hotel until I arrived at my house. They eventually “promoted” me to an exempt status because they couldn’t afford to pay me by the hour anymore – technician to engineer.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @David in KC: Fixed!

    @Ron Beasley: Yeah, usually only contractors, consultants, attorneys and such get the sweet “door to door” billing. It makes no sense to do that for regular employees.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @James Joyner: They were required to under State law. The promotion was really a result of the State of Oregon telling NEC they had to pay me when I was required to have my pager on (pre cell phones).

  5. Ben says:

    My wife works in a prison and sometimes it can take quite a while to get through security, especially if you are picked for “enhanced” screening. They clock-in before they get in line for security. And then they have to go back through security on the way out. They clock-out afterwards.

    My wife was in disbelief when I told her that Amazon was doing this to her employees. What a sleazy business practice.

  6. beth says:

    @Ben: Amazon doesn’t have the greatest record of treating their warehouse employees well. They seem to only do the right thing only when forced by either the law, the courts or bad publicity. They may soon pass Walmart as the symbol of bad corporate citizenship.

  7. wr says:

    And for some unfathomable reason, the Obama administration has filed a brief on behalf of the employers. Apparently the claim is that if employers have to pay workers for their time, it will cost them money — and the administration, whose leader constantly talks about the difficulties poorly paid workers face, thinks this is unfair to owners.

  8. Ron Beasley says:

    @James Joyner: I might add I was functioning as an engineer and as a process engineer advising Japanese engineers so it only made sense to “promote” me. The downside was I took a hit on my income and because of Japanese protocol had to start wearing a tie.

  9. JKB says:

    @James Joyner:

    When federal non-exempt employees travel, they do get something like what Ron describes. I never got into the details as an exempt employee, but handling crossing the dateline meant finding the “expert” travel clerk for advice. The only big difference is that you couldn’t count the distance of your normal commute if you drove yourself to the airport but if the airport was further, you got the difference.

  10. EddieInCA says:

    In my business, alot of my employees are paid “Portal-to-Portal”. Their time starts when they leave their hotel, and ends when they return to the hotel.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    It’s a darn shame we live in such an anti-union country. This is what unions are for.

  12. Gustopher says:

    Wage theft costs Americans more money than muggings or robberies, but no one ever goes to jail for it. That’s a shame.

  13. Tyrell says:

    How about people who have a 15-20 wait to get out of the parking lot at large plants or other places of work ?

  14. Rafer Janders says:

    @Gustopher:

    And it will continue until we start sending some employers to jail for it.

  15. Console says:

    @Tyrell:

    No one forces you to drive a car home from work or use the parking lot. That’s fundamentally your problem. You’re not going to get fired if you choose to walk home instead of driving.

  16. Tyrell says:

    @Console: Thanks for that clarification. I did think about that aspect, but was not sure.

  17. Just Me says:

    If you have to stand in line you should get paid for it.

  18. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    I worked at a cement plant one summer as a temp worker. The time clock was at the employee entrance to the factory. You clocked in as you walked through the door and clocked out as you walked out. Every minute you were in the factory itself was time that you were paid for. Because our work involved changing into work uniforms before starting and showering after we were finished, the job had approximately 5 hours of built in overtime and yet management never complained. It was considered a cost of achieving 8 hours of production from each worker.

    Apparently, those days are gone in many places.

  19. John Peabody says:

    Union construction crane workers get ‘climbing time’ to make it to their workplace, high over Gotham City.

  20. Barry says:

    @beth: “Amazon doesn’t have the greatest record of treating their warehouse employees well. They seem to only do the right thing only when forced by either the law, the courts or bad publicity. ”

    They don’t have the slightest record of treating any employees well, or even decently. I’ve seen lots of articles describing the abuse and burnout rates among white-collar employees.

  21. Barry says:

    @Tyrell: “Thanks for that clarification. I did think about that aspect, but was not sure.”

    Basically, these employees are required to *be exactly there*.

  22. Barry says:

    @wr: “And for some unfathomable reason, the Obama administration has filed a brief on behalf of the employers. Apparently the claim is that if employers have to pay workers for their time, it will cost them money — and the administration, whose leader constantly talks about the difficulties poorly paid workers face, thinks this is unfair to owners.”

    G*d f*ck whomever made that decision.

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: It’s things like this that make me want to run as a pure socialist (“a bas les aristos!”) for POTUS.