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U.S. High Court To Hear Amazon Warehouse Workers’ Case Over Security Screenings

Scott Sady
AP Photo
FILE - An employee pulls a pallet of empty boxes past the book storage area at their Fernley, Nevada warehouse.

Amazon warehouse workers will have their moment before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday when the justices will hear arguments in a case over whether the workers should be paid for time spent waiting to go through security screenings. 

The workers in the case were employed in Nevada by an Amazon contractor called Integrity Staffing Solutions. Every day, they’d clock out then go through a security screening to see if they were walking out with any merchandise.

"A bit like an airport, they’d have to take everything out of their pockets and go through a metal detector," said Eric Schnapper, a law professor at the University of Washington and one of the attorneys representing the workers.

Schnapper says the process wouldn’t be a problem if it was quick, but it usually took 25 minutes every day — time that the workers weren’t getting paid for.

"Our contention is anything the employer requires you to do, the employer’s got to pay you for," Schnapper said. "If the employer wanted to sing the company song, or post tweets about Amazon online or take French class — anything the employer requires you to do, they have to pay you for."

An Appeal To The U.S. Supreme Court

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the warehouse workers, and Integrity Staffing Solutions appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The company argues that the security screenings are similar to time spent waiting to punch in to work, and they say the screenings are not an integral part of the warehouse work the employees were hired to do and therefore not something they’re required to pay the workers for.

The solicitor general of the United States has filed a brief siding with the employer, as have business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation. 

"It's been very clear for many years that security screening and other types of activities such as punching a time clock at the beginning or end of the shift are not activities that employers have to compensate employees for," said Edward Brill, an attorney with Proskauer Rose LLP, which filed an amicus brief for the Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Litigation Center and other industry groups. 

Amazon isn’t named in the case. In a statement, the company said it doesn't comment on pending litigation, but that data show that employees walk through post-shift security screening with little or no wait.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.