Amazon Wage Theft Case Comes Before The Supreme Court

Dave JohnsonPicture this: You are supposedly “off work” but every day after the end of your shift you have to wait in a line for up to 25 minutes to get “checked” to see if you are stealing things. The Supreme Court is going to decide if you should be paid for your time. This is part of the larger issue of “wage theft.”

The Roberts Supreme Court is notorious for siding with big corporations over regular Americans. Now they are going to hear a case involving Amazon warehouse workers who are required to check out from “paid time” but then wait up to 25 minutes to go through a screening to see if they are stealing. Who is stealing from whom?

Bloomberg News has the story, in “Amazon Workers Take Security-Line Woes to Supreme Court”:

Jesse Busk spent a 12-hour shift rushing inventory through an Inc. warehouse in Nevada to meet quotas. His day wasn’t over, though.

After clocking out, Busk and hundreds of other workers went through an airport-style screening process, including metal detectors, to make sure they weren’t stealing from the Web retailer. Getting through the line often took as long as 25 minutes, uncompensated, he and others employed there say.

“They did it on my time,” Busk, 37, of Henderson, Nevada, said in an interview. “If people are stuck in your building and they’re not allowed to leave, why don’t you go ahead and pay them?”

Wage Theft Is Big Money

This is not small potatoes. In the case of just one company – Amazon – up to 400,000 workers could get back wages amounting to $100 million. Nationally wage theft is about serious money. Click this chart for the full story from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).












Here’s the thing. If the Roberts court sides with Amazon, businesses will feel free to increase the ways they get time and work out of workers without paying them. Already, according to Bloomberg, “Apple Inc., CVS Health Corp., J.C. Penney Co., TJX Cos. and Ross Stores Inc. are all battling court claims involving searches at break times or the end of shifts at distribution centers or stores.”

Wage theft can take several forms, including but not limited to:

  • Employees denied overtime pay.
  • Employees paid less than minimum wage.
  • Employees forced to work off the clock without pay.
  • Employees misclassified as independent contractors.
  • Employees forced to put in “volunteer” time.
  • Illegal deductions taken from pay.
  • Employees denied breaks.
  • Employees denied promised vacation pay.
  • Employees denied promised sick pay.
  • Tips stolen from workers.

Wage theft does not just hit low-wage employees. Several Silicon Valley companies are being sued for conspiring to keep wages low through an agreement to refuse to hire employees from the other conspirators. This kept competition for the employees down, which kept wages lower than they otherwise would have been.

The Labor Department caught LinkedIn shorting salespeople’s compensation and made them pay $3 million in back wages and $2.5 million in damages.

A few wage theft resources:

EPI report, “An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year.”, “Wage Theft Is Much More Common Than You Think.”

Wage Theft at Interfaith Worker Justice

The National Employment Law Project

This blog originally appeared in on October 6, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.