Amazon Workers Want Pay for Time Spent at Security Checkpoint

Posted April 25, 2013 in Class Actions Labor and Employment by

Security guard searching a bag

John Rowley/Lifesize/Thinkstock

Warehouse workers subcontracted to Amazon.com can move forward with a lawsuit seeking wages for the time it takes them to pass through a security checkpoint at the end of their shift, a court ruled this month.

After the workday is over, employees at Integrity Staffing Solutions who spend the day at a warehouse filling Amazon orders are required to wait in line for a search to make sure they aren’t stealing anything. It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to get through the checkpoint, plaintiffs say, after they’ve already clocked out.

That’s nearly two hours or more every week spent at work that isn’t being compensated. Alleging that the practice violates federal labor rules, former employees Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro initiated a class action lawsuit against Integrity to recoup the difference.

A district court stepped in and dismissed the suit, but earlier this month the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the class action the green light to advance. The plaintiffs “allege that the screenings are intended to prevent employee theft – a plausible allegation since the employees apparently pass through the clearances only on their way out of work, not when they enter,” the opinion says. “As alleged, the security clearances are necessary to employees’ primary work as warehouse employees and done for Integrity’s benefit.”

However, the 9th Circuit upheld the District Court’s dismissal of a portion of the suit seeking compensation for the time it took to walk to the employee lunch area.

 

Time on the Clock

Mark Thierman

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that workers get paid for “all time during which an employee is necessarily required to be on the employer’s premises, on duty or at a prescribed work place,” which may “be longer than the employee’s scheduled shift, hours, tour of duty, or production line time.” Work time includes periods during which an employee is “engaged to wait” for an employment-related activity.

Other courts have found that employees do not have to be compensated for the time it takes to pass through security. However, in those instances the checks were made uniformly in the interest of safety, such as for workers at an airport or other sensitive facilities.

The distinction in the Busk-Castro suit is that the checks were made solely to protect the employer’s interest in not having merchandise stolen, and therefore could count as time on the clock, the 9th Circuit reasoned.

“Postliminary activities are still compensable . . . if they are ‘integral and indispensable’ to an employee’s principal activities,” the opinion states, comparing the Integrity checks to situations in which employees are required to put on and take off specialized outfits on the premises of a job.

If Integrity doesn’t want to pay for the extra 20 minutes, they could reduce the amount of time it takes to leave the warehouse. “There are thousands of employees all going through the gates at the same time,” says Mark Thierman, a labor and employment attorney at the Reno-based Thierman Law Firm, which is representing the plaintiffs. “They could relieve it by opening more checkpoints or staggering releases.”

 

Head of the Class

The class potential could be huge. “We estimate there’s over 38,000 Amazon workers employed by Integrity or other subcontractors,” Thierman says. Taking into account employee turnover, the total number could approach 100,000 members.

The statute allows for compensation to be sought for the previous three years, although the attorneys are hoping to extend the period to five years given the time it took to appeal the dismissal.

Most of the workers affected make between $9 and $12 an hour. “If you want to take the pencil to paper we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars,” the lawyer says.

Current or former Integrity employees eligible to join the class need to opt in to the lawsuit by filing a consent to sue form or contacting the attorneys. “The bottom line,” says Thierman, “is people are going to get some serious money if they participate.”

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