Some Amazon employees are suing over unpaid security searches:
A Pennsylvania man who works for Internet retail giant Amazon says the company is taking advantage of workers by putting them through daily security checks that last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes — and eat into unpaid hours, before work, after work and during lunch breaks.
He’s kicked off a class-action suit against the company, filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and alleging violations of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, NBC reported.
Lead plaintiff Neal Heimbach, from Allentown, Pa., has worked in the company’s warehouse in Breinigsville for nearly three years. His complaint is that daily, nearly 100 workers at the facility are forced to undergo security searches without pay — that take place during times when they’re officially off-the-clock, NBC said.
There are two ways of looking at this. The first is that since you aren’t working, you cannot reasonably expect to get paid. It’s like a commute in that respect. We are not generally paid for commuting times, even though they can really eat into our day. The second way of looking at it is that whether you’re working or not you are nonetheless doing what the employers require of them. I am not sure what the law is, but if the plaintiff’s claims are true, I’d assume that they would favor the plaintiff.
As a matter of what should be, I am more inclined towards the plaintiff in any event. I have never had to deal with 10-20 minute security checks, but I remember when I was taking calls for a satellite company and how they had us do this routine before we could log in. If the computer was still on, we had to shut it down and restart it. There was no way that they could know for sure whether you did this or not, but if you didn’t the likelihood was far greater that your computer would crash. The computers were pathetically weak, which meant that reboots every four or five hours were generally a good idea. It also meant that the time required for bootup to occur was forever. Often in excess of ten minutes. You couldn’t even do it and leave because you could come back and find some vulture at your workstation. If they could nab someone else’s computer, they’d save their own bootup time.
Employers cannot generally be made to pay people for their commute because a commute is variable depending on the decisions made by the employee. Someone could, at least in theory, get a job further away so that they could get the overtime or work fewer hours. Security searches, on the other hand, are as loose or as vigorous as the employers choose to make them. If it’s on the employee’s dime, they don’t have any real incentive to not go full-TSA. Likewise, the computers at the call center were entirely the province of the employer. If they didn’t want to pay us for ten minutes of waiting for a computer to boot up, they need to have faster computers.
A similar case involves defining clothes:
In 2012, a group of 800 steelworkers at a U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Indiana brought suit against their employer, asking for “work time”—that is, paid time—to include the time it took them to put on and take off their work clothes. For steelworkers, “work clothes” aren’t just suits or coveralls; they include flame-retardant jackets and pants, protective leggings, Kevlar sleeves, gloves, steel-toed boots, hard hats, safety glasses, earplugs, and hoods. When you work with molten metal, getting dressed for work—and, then, un-dressed—takes some time.
Unlike the security searches and bootup times when benefit only the employer (either loss prevention or lower equipment costs), the safety gear benefits both. You can argue “Well, if you’re going to hire welders, you have to factor in the costs of paying them to get suited up!”… but you can just as easily argue that if you’re going to be a welder, you really ought to factor in the fact that you’re not going to be paid for getting suited up and that’s just a cost of the profession.
When I was the solo IT guy at a fabricating plant, our employees were not generally paid for squat except working. I mean, when we got a major order out on time we would throw a mandatory afternoon party where attendance was expected and the workers were expected to be clocked out. I always thought that was kind of a bummer because it meant that (barring overtime) everyone would get paid for 36 hours instead of 40. On the other hand, if we just got an order out the door, there was a great chance that overtime was involved. It was still probably nice to have an afternoon that didn’t involve open torches in a warehouse with temperatures of 90 degrees outside. Even so, they might prefer to spend the time with their families or grabbing a beer. Theoretically they could go home and come back, but beer was out of the question because it tended to be timed so that there was still an hour worth of work at the end and you don’t want people handling torches and heavy machinery having just gotten a beer.
So once again, I find myself more sympathetic to the plaintiffs. Down with the man.