Amazon Warehouse Workers Lose at the Supreme Court

Just months after oral arguments the Supreme Court has delivered a ruling in Integrity Staffing v. Busk. The case was about whether contract workers at Amazon warehouses need to be paid for time spent waiting in line for a security check on their way out of work at the end of the day.

In a unanimous 9-0 decision the court ruled the workers did not have to be paid for that time. The case hinged on interpreting the 1947 Portal-to-Portal Act. The Portal-to-Portal act was meant to clarify when workers needed to be paid for duties that were performed before or after the work day. For example, does an employee need to be paid for the time taken commuting to work? For time spent putting on a uniform or safety gear? Turning on a computer? Under the Portal-to-Portal act workers need only be paid for duties that are a “principal activity” of the workers’ jobs. Courts have ruled that turning on a computer used for work is a compensable “principal activity” while putting on some types of gear is not a “principal activity”.

In this case, Integrity Staffing v. Busk, the court ruled the security checks were not principal activities. The reasoning was that the security checks were not  “an intrinsic element” of the job and “one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.” Workers in the warehouse could have performed their job without undergoing the security checks. This is unlike, for instance, some of the computer cases where courts ruled turning on the computer was something the employee had to do in order to perform his principal activities and so was compensable time.

The case got to the Supreme Court because the 9th circuit Court of Appeals ruled the opposite way. The 9th circuit said that because the employer requires the check and the workers have no control over how long it takes. it should be compensable.

While I agree with the 9th circuit’s logic, it is not necessarily the correct analysis of the situation under the text of the Portal-to-Portal act.

This case was one of statutory interpretation. The court was analyzing the facts of the case with an eye to the meaning of the statute. This means Congress could change the law and make it so situations like this would be compensable in the future. Unfortunately the current congress would never change a law that helps businesses. The GOP hates workers and would never do anything that would help employees at the expense of business. Current Democrats are not much better.

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