The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday that workers at Amazon warehouses don't need to be paid for the time they spend undergoing security screenings before they're released to go home.
As Bloomberg Businessweek's Josh Eidelson explains, the core question in the case was whether the security checks counted as time spent on the job. Had the Court found that they did, then the workers would have been entitled to pay under a 1938 Supreme Court ruling that held workers must be paid for time on the job. But, Eidelson notes, workers don't have to be paid for "preliminary" or "postliminary" activities like commuting. Any activity "integral or indispensable" to a job, however, merits pay under Supreme Court precedent.
On Tuesday, the Court found that Integrity Staffing Solutions, the Amazon contractor employing the warehouse workers, wasn't obligated to pay them for the security checks. “Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote. “The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment."
Thomas added that the contractor could simply "have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.”
The 9-0 ruling comes as many progressives and labor allies, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are sounding alarms about a pro-business bent on the Court.
“You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of big business,” Warren said last year.