Labor groups and observers are wondering how employers will implement a recent Supreme Court ruling that found Amazon does not have to pay workers for time spent going through mandatory anti-theft security checks.
“The decision is a big loss for workers, as an increasing number of employers require security screenings,” Forbes reported. A common criticism of the decision is the fear that “if the employer doesn’t have to pay for the screening, it has no incentive to expedite it.”
Jesse Busk of Las Vegas and Laurie Castro of Fenley, Nevada, two workers at different Amazon warehouses in Nevada, sued Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temp company that Amazon pays to staff its warehouses, for compensation for their time spent in security lines.
“The plaintiffs said the screenings would not have taken long had the agency added more security screeners or staggered the ends of work shifts. In practice, they said, the waits approached half an hour,” wrote Adam Liptak of The New York Times.
Last week, the Supreme Court overturned an appellate ruling in favor of the workers.
The high court’s opinion “turned on the meaning of a 1947 law, the Portal-to-Portal Act, which says that companies need not pay for ‘preliminary’ or ‘postliminary’ activities, meaning ones that take place before and after the workday proper. The Supreme Court interpreted a law in 1956 to require pay only for tasks that are an ‘integral and indispensable part of the principal activities for which covered workmen are employed,’” Liptak wrote.
Justice Clarence Thomas explained in the court’s ruling that the security screenings were not “integral and indispensable” to the workers’ job description. Indicating that if the screenings were removed, the worker’s job of retrieving and packaging items to be shipped to Amazon customers would not be affected.
“The decision overturned a ruling by a U.S. Appeals Court that favored the workers,” Liptak reported.
“The ruling will come as a relief to the business community,” according to U.S. News & World Report. “Business groups argued that compensating employees for security checks would be costly and impractical. Upholding the appeals court decision, a coalition of (business groups wrote in a legal brief to the Supreme Court) in support of the temp agency, ‘would result in decreased workplace safety, increased losses due to theft, and ultimately increased costs for the U.S. consumer.’”
However, others worry how far companies will take the ruling. If required security screening is not a “principal activity” that must be compensated, then what about other aspects of warehouse jobs? In a column for Bloomberg News, Noah Feldman wrote that payment for the time it takes to put on required protective gear, shower after dangerous chemical work, or sharpen knives in a meatpacking business are questionable as a “principal activity.”
However, “Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the court’s opinion but added a concurrence to stress its limited scope. Activities related to worker safety and efficiency remained covered, she said,” The New York Times reported.
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