Unpaid Leadtime

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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50 Responses

  1. Glyph says:

    Because searches are inherently invasive, the workers should definitely get paid. You can’t look at or touch the girls in the strip club for free either.Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    Simple logic says that if I am an hourly employee and my boss tells me to spend time doing something as a condition of employment, than I ought to be paid. It seems pretty cut-and-dry to me.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

      Simple logic says that if they haven’t quit, it’s because all things considered they find this job preferable to all other alternatives available to them. It’s not like they’re being defrauded.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I can’t agreee, Brandon. The overall pay and conditions could be better than their next best alternative, even if they lose thus lawsuit, but that diesn’t make the lawsuit withiut merit. Setting aside any relevant workplace laws, they could have an agreement, a contract whether explicit or implicit, about these things that has been violated. We may not know yet whether that’s the case or not, but it’s not by any means outside the boundaries of the possible.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I would agree that a lawsuit would be justified if, say, a worker did this for a month and didn’t find out that the search time would be uncompensated until they got the paychecks. Or if they had a contract explicitly guaranteeing that they’d be paid for the search time.

        I can’t see this being justified by any implicit agreement, because they’ve implicitly agreed to the status quo by coming back for more.Report

      • Squeelookle in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        So because they didn’t immediately quit their job not knowing how they would feed their families in the short term, they deserve to be abused and have their time stolen? And I’ll remind you that if you quit your job rather than being fired you don’t even qualify for unemployment benefits.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Lead plaintiff Neal Heimbach, from Allentown, Pa., has worked in the company’s warehouse in Breinigsville for nearly three years.


      • dragonfrog in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        If all the major employers in a city have the same abusive practices, that doesn’t make the practice non-abusive.

        If all the major employers in a city have different abusive practices, and this just happens to be the least abusive of the available abuses, that doesn’t make the practice non-abusive.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        No, what makes it non-abusive is that it’s not abusive. Nobody’s being forced to work there. Anybody who doesn’t think the total compensation package is worth what they have to do to get it can look for a better deal elsewhere, or just quit. If Amazon’s getting such a screaming deal, why isn’t anyone else giving them a better offer?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        And the police have been shooting puppies for years, so Balko should just shut the hell up about it.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg says:


        In general I’m in agreement with you. But, hey, if your employer is violating a law and their compliance with that law would make your job even more remunerative, I can’t really see anything wrong with trying to make them comply with the law.

        That’s not the same as arguing the employees are being “abused,” just that their action is–assuming they have a plausible case–wholly legitimate.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        It’s okay, Mike. Analogies are hard.Report

  3. J@m3z Aitch says:

    I don’t know the state of the law on this, but that sounds like company time to me. After all, it’s company business, so surely it’s company time, right?

    I’d read about the steelworkers case previously, and I’m inclined to their side, too…probably. I suppose if this is equipment they provide themselves, one could argue that they should just dress at home instead of changing at work, but while that might make sense for the boots (at least I’ve known lots of blue collar guys who work their boots to work, back home, out to the bar, at the football game…) the flame retardant jackets, protective leggings, and such…it’s not exactly like me putting on a tie (which in fact I don’t even need to do).Report

  4. j r says:

    Definitely shady on Amazon’s part. If the job requires searches on their premises, the employees ought to be getting paid. Generally, hourly workers ought to be getting paid from the moment they clock in until the moment they clock out, with some clearly prescribed lunch period carved out.

    Also, it’s nice to the class-action suit being used on a reasonable class of people, as opposed to a class that includes, say, everyone who rented a Netflix movie between 2006 and 2008. regardless of whether you have any gripe or not.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to j r says:

      I clicked on that link too… are we getting any Netflix money soon?Report

      • Glyph in reply to Marchmaine says:

        No, but you can stream Leonard Part 6, as many times as you want, for free!Report

      • Chris in reply to Marchmaine says:

        Bill Cosby is a genius!Report

      • j r in reply to Marchmaine says:

        Those types of class-action lawsuits don’t generally give any real benefits to the class that’s been supposedly harmed. Some law firm finds one person with a complaint against Netflix to start the ball rolling. They automatically opt-in all of Netflix’ customers and bring the suit. Then Netflix “settles” by offering everyone in the class something trivial like a voucher for a free month and pays the law firm’s multi-million dollar fee. Quite the scam.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Marchmaine says:


        Not true and especially not true for wage and hour classes. I’ve received checks from being part of class action law suits involving illgal credit card fees. Wage and Hour class actions do indeed involve class members receiving their unpaid wages if victorious.Report

      • j r in reply to Marchmaine says:


        Wrong about what? I don’t see where we are actually disagreeing on this, unless you believe that there is no abuse at all of the class-action law suit.Report

  5. morat20 says:

    The fact that Amazon chooses a security method that might end up costing them a half-hour’s labor per employee is an overhead Amazon chose to accept. If it’s too expensive, they should reevaluate the cost/benefit analysis, not try to con employees into working for free.

    Labor law probably varies depending on whether they’re hourly or salaried, and the precise instructions regarding time-keeping. If it’s a punch-in/punch-out system on the other side of a security check, I can see where the lawsuit originates. (Can’t punch in until you pass security, but security is costing you 20 minutes each way…)Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to morat20 says:

      Seriously. 20 minutes is nearly 5% of a workday. That’s an enormous operating cost that they’re pushing onto their employees.

      I worked for a place that made frickin’ nuclear weapons and never had to take out more than 10-15 minutes for a random search that included my car. And that was a government operation. What’s Amazon doing that we weren’t?Report

      • morat20 in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        Par for the course these days.

        Walmart, for instance, is notorious for trying to squeeze out unpaid hours out of employees. (“You’re off the clock, but if you want to have a job in the morning you’ll finish this before you leave”). Amazon’s had plenty of bad press too.

        Labor’s gone from an investment to a cost, something to be squeezed as hard as possible. Companies seem to begrudge every penny paid to a worker.Report

      • daveNYC in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        Labor wishes it rated as highly as being a cost. Liability is probably a better description, though less accurate as an accounting term.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        I worked for a place that made frickin’ nuclear weapons and never had to take out more than 10-15 minutes for a random search that included my car. And that was a government operation. What’s Amazon doing that we weren’t?

        That’s this first thing I thought of too. It doesn’t take that long to get into the *Pentagon* as a (cleared) visitor, much less an employee. (and I’m pretty sure the White House is the same, through 2nd hand accounts)Report

  6. NewDealer says:

    I’m with you. Wage and Hour cases are a fairly common form of class action law suit. From what I know, they often tend to go the way of the plaintiff because HR/Executives are often comically evil and inept in trying to get around the rules.

    The ones I’ve worked on (very briefly) all involved HR trying to make as many people “assistant managers” or “managers” as possible while they still largely performed non-managerial tasks and not giving them much managerial authority. Just because you call someone a manager, doesn’t mean that they are.

    I’ve never worked on a case about getting clocked out for tasks so I can’t say what the level of success but simple logic states that they should get paid for these security checks.Report

  7. NewDealer says:

    It also seems comically inept to do something nice for your workers and then make them clock out.Report

  8. Burt Likko says:

    You’re on my home turf here, Mr. Truman. And you’ve got the basic concept down: if the employer is controlling what the employees do, they’re on the clock. Check out the “donning and doffing” cases for an analogy, and this wouldn’t be the first “slow boot-up” case out there, either. As for the commuting time, which is also something that you’ve got pretty much right whether by knowledge or instinct, check out something called the “portal to portal” rule.

    The punchline is: I’d love to represent this plaintiff and a class of other people similarly-situated, even in generally pro-employer Pennsylvania. This case looks like a winner to me.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Mandatory off-the-clock parties sound like a winner for the plaintiff to me too.Report

      • “Mandatory” being the operative word there. “Effectively mandatory” would qualify as well — as in “technically optional but bad things happen to you, or good things don’t happen to you, if you don’t go.”

        I wonder in my more wildly speculative moments about spouses at “effectively mandatory” work parties. If the spouse “has” to go or there is some sort of penalty paid, then is the spouse’s presence also compensable? Normally, this issue comes up in the form of discrimination on the basis of marital status (and therefore of sex in some jurisdictions and in some circumstances), but perhaps the spouse is entitled to at least the seven-fifty-an-hour-minimum for being at a party so as to enable the company to present the right sort of social image to its clients. But this is still fringe stuff.Report

  9. Michael Drew says:

    I think there’s a distinction to be made between “dressing for work” (something employers can expect employees to do before coming to work) and “taking all appropriate safety measures relating to the nature of the work,” which to me would include donning equipment that would have absolutely no use in the home, even if as a matter of property ownership the equipment belongs to the employees. A person should be expected to show up for work ready to work, but IMO any safety procedures, including putting on personal safety gear, relating to the work ought to simply be thought of as being part of the work itself.Report

  10. scott the mediocre says:

    Anecdata regarding the US Steel case: I used to work in an independent steel mill (“independent” = owned by a small company who only owned that one mill: 500-700 employees depending on how busy things were) . Granted, this was the late 70s, and things may have changed since then.

    We were required to provide and clock in/out wearing our own safety equipment that met the current Cal-OSHA standard for the general mill floor: steel toed boots, hard hat, eye and hearing protection. ISTR that the company provided gloves (which tended to wear through pretty quickly on some jobs), but my memory could be false on that. I strongly suspect that the atmosphere we were breathing would often exceed present day standards for particulates, though.

    For the specialized jobs that required the asbestos suit and hood and related paraphenalia, the company provided the equipment, and the time to get in and out of it (and the person to help you and check that you were buttoned up correctly) were all on the clock. Seemed reasonable to me (BTW, it didn’t really take that long to get in and out – maybe three minutes on, two minutes off; what took forever off the clock was getting out the cinders that burned into any exposed skin).Report

  11. Alan Scott says:

    There’s an interesting wrinkle in the steel worker case: The Union Contract specifies that employees will not be paid for time to don and doff clothing.

    Anyone else familiar with steel work or similar? is this arrangement an industry standard? Because I’m less inclined to favor a court getting in the way of a fairly negotiated union contract that supports industry-standard rules that I would be for other circumstances.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Alan Scott says:

      On the one hand, it seems that most of the case hinges around what is clothing and what is equipment. On the other, it’s an odd thing to put in a union contract about clothing unless you’re talking about the special clothing that steelworkers have to wear (namely, their equipment)… unless we’re just talking about steel-toed boots.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        I would draw a line between “clothing” and “equipment” based on what could reasonably be worn outside the work place.

        If I understand tax law correctly, I couldn’t deduct the cost of my ties, but my wife could have deducted the cost of scrubs.

        I’d also be curious to know who paid for the clothing/equipment and who was responsible for it. If it belonged to the company and the employees couldn’t take it home (thereby requiring them to don it at the place of employment), I think that tips towards the employees.Report

      • Scrubs make awesome pajamas. Better pajamas than pajamas do, in fact. I actually had some scrubs when I was in college.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Will Truman says:

        I had to dump them to get any tlc while in school.Report

  12. James K says:

    What I’m having trouble understanding is what Amazon gets out of this. Those workers aren’t being productive for those 20 minutes, and I simply don’t believe a 20 minute security check serves any valid purpose for a book seller.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to James K says:

      If I had to guess, it’s not books they’re looking for: it’s the electronics gewgaws they sell.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to James K says:

      Loss prevention. They’re probably less worried about books and more worried about things like small electronics. I’m not sure they’re actually getting checked for twenty minutes. I think that includes queue time. But why hire more security people to conduct more security lines when you’re eating into someone else’s time?Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Will Truman says:

        If it’s queue time, that’s even worse. You could maybe argue that employees will sandbag putting their gear on if you pay for that time, but waiting in line? The employer is 100% in control of that variable. The employee has no way around it.Report

  13. Rod says:

    First, I wholeheartedly agree with the general consensus. Amazon should be paying for this time.

    Second, I seriously doubt if there’s any job in America that involves more uncompensated time than over-the-road trucking. To start, it’s all piece-work with the work unit being a “load” for which I’m paid so many cents per mile but which also includes up to two hours on either end for loading and unloading. There’s also DOT mandated pre-trip and post-trip equipment inspections as well as time spent fueling, training, piss-tests, etc. Basically I have to record all time spent “working” including sitting around waiting “in readiness” for someone else to get their rear in gear. And the real hell of it is all that “on-duty, not driving” time counts against my limit of seventy hours combined driving and work time in eight days. Meaning it cuts into the time I have legally available to drive and thus, earn dollars. In case you’re wondering, yes, we do minimize the amount we record that way, up to and including outright falsification (not me!).

    In fairness, I should note that I do get paid for wait time over two hours (my company bills the customer), extra stops, detention pay if I sit for more than a day waiting for a load or if my truck’s in the shop. And short loads pay more per mile and sometimes a bonus.Report

  14. DavidTC says:

    I think most people have gotten the right end of this, but I’d like to point out something people missed:

    Lunch breaks usually have a length required by law. 30 minutes, or an hour, depending.

    By making them do security breaks during lunch, we’ve exited the dispute over whether or not that they should be paid for that time, and now we’re in a universe where Amazon is actually going to have to let them leave _earlier_.

    Amazon is not just stealing wages, they are not giving the required time for lunch breaks.

    Also, in the case of required 15 minute breaks under the law, I believe you have to be allowed to leave the area, which means they have to go through security for _that_, also. (Which probably means, right now, they aren’t even bothering to try.)Report