Amazon workers look for justice from a business-friendly Supreme Court

A case involving payment for time spent waiting in line heads to the highest court. Isn't this what unions are for?

Published March 3, 2014 9:51PM (EST)

  (AP/Ross Franklin)
(AP/Ross Franklin)

Reuters reports that the Supreme Court will decide whether companies such as Amazon "must pay workers for the time they spend waiting to clear security checks at the end of their work shifts."

Temporary workers at Amazon warehouses can spend as long as 30 minutes waiting to get through security checks. Since the security checks are designed as a theft-prevention measure, reasonable people might consider them a part of the regular Amazon warehouse workday. Integrity Solutions Staffing, an Amazon contractor, disagrees.

"Security screenings are indistinguishable from many other tasks that have been found non-compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act, such as waiting to punch in and out on the time clock, walking from the parking lot to the work place, waiting to pick up a paycheck, or waiting to pick up protective gear before donning it for a work shift," Integrity wrote in a brief to the court.

There are two points to make about this argument. The first is, just because a whole bunch of other ways in which employers are screwing workers have been found legal doesn't mean we should automatically extend the exploitation.

But secondly, and more importantly, this kind of nickel-and-dime profit shaving is exactly the kind of thing that, in the past, would be part of a negotiated settlement between a strong union and a massive employer like Amazon (or Integrity.) But since there are no strong unions in the tech sector, workers have no alternative but to go the courts. And if they pursue their grievances to the ultimate level, they end up before a Supreme Court stacked with business-friendly justices.

The more we know about labor conditions in Amazon's warehouses, the worse it gets. Now we can add to all the other indignities the humiliation of standing in line -- without pay -- to prove that you are not a thief, and the unlikelihood that John G. Roberts' Supreme Court will do anything about it.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Amazon Labor Labor Conditions Security Checks Supreme Court Workers