By Jay Greene
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case in which Amazon.com warehouse workers are seeking compensation for the time they must wait to go through security screening at breaks or the end of shifts.
Those lines can stretch as long as a half-hour a day during peak holiday shopping seasons, according to the workers’ lawyer, Mark R. Thierman, who is seeking to represent Amazon warehouse workers across the country. Thierman, an attorney in Reno, Nev., said the alleged unpaid wages could amount as much as $300 million.
His clients worked at an Amazon warehouse in Nevada as employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, which provides temporary workers for Amazon. Like all Amazon warehouse employees, they were required to pass through the security screens as they left to prevent theft.
The workers sued in 2010. A U.S. district court granted Integrity’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the workers were not entitled to compensation spent waiting for security screening under the Fair Labor Standards Act because it was not “integral and indispensable” to their jobs, similar to punching a clock to start or end a shift.
But last April, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court, concluding that the workers were entitled to the pay because the screenings were “required” by Integrity and were performed “for Integrity’s benefit.”
While Amazon is not a party to the Supreme Court case, Thierman said the company has been added as a defendant to the case in lower court.
“It’s Amazon that is calling the shots,” Thierman said.
Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako declined to comment on the case, citing “a longstanding practice of not commenting on pending litigation.” Integrity’s lawyer, Paul D. Clement, did not respond to a request for comment.
But Integrity argued in its petition to have the case heard by the Supreme Court, that the security checks, much like walking from the parking lot to the workplace or punching a time clock, are “fundamentally distinct from employees’ actual job duties” and not compensable.
Thierman said the case could have been avoided if Amazon simply added a few more security checkpoints during the peak shopping season, when the company often adds thousands of temporary workers to its payrolls to handle the holiday crush.
“If it wasn’t for the congestion, (the waiting time) would be de minimis, and then who cares,” Thierman said. “But we’re not talking about 10 minutes or less.”
The case could have implications beyond Amazon. In November, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others, filed an amicus brief urging the court to review the lower court’s decision.
Thierman expects oral arguments could come this fall.