It’s well documented that some Amazon employees work in gruelling, physically taxing, and unsafe conditions. In fact, a former Amazon warehouse employee in California has sued the company for not allowing its workers to take their full mandated meal or rest breaks, even though it discounts time for the former in their paychecks.
The case, which was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Friday, was filed on behalf of Lovenia Scott, a former logistics specialist that worked at Amazon’s warehouse in Vacaville, California for more than two years. Scott alleges that Amazon did not let her and other employees take their lawfully mandated 30-minute meal breaks in full for every five hours worked or their 10-minute rest breaks for every four hours worked.
Scott’s attorneys are asking the court to certify her case as a class action and to grant a trial by jury. Amazon, meanwhile, has denied any liability in the case in regard to Scott’s claims as an individual and her claims on behalf of a larger class of affected employees.
Gizmodo reached out to Amazon for comment on the case on Sunday, but we did not hear back by the time of publication. We’ll make sure to update this blog if we do.
The former Amazon employee contends there are various reasons why she and other employees could not take their full 30-minute meal breaks. Scott states that Amazon does not schedule meal breaks as a part of each shift; does not have a formal written meal or rest period policy that encourages employees to take their breaks; and requires employees to carry around, listen to, and respond to requests on their walkie talkies during their meal breaks to ensure their work duties are being managed smoothly.
Even the process of getting to take a meal break took time away from the actual break, according to the suit. Scott claims that meal breaks were organised in such a way that many people took breaks at the same time. This resulted in long lines that could last between 10 to 15 minutes at the computer where employees have to clock in and out for their break. Clocking back in late was not acceptable in Amazon’s eyes, though.
“Defendants maintained a policy or practice of disciplining Plaintiff and members of the putative class, up to and including termination, if they did not clock back in from their meal periods on time,” Scott’s attorneys write in the suit.
Nonetheless, Scott claims that Amazon automatically deducted 30 minutes for a meal period from her paycheck and those of other employees on the days they worked, even though they had not taken the full break.
When it comes to 10-minute rest breaks, Scott claims that Amazon did not schedule rest breaks, chronically understaffed each shift, and imposed so much work on each employee “that it made it unlikely that an employee would be able to take their breaks if they wanted to finish their work on time.” Additionally, when it comes to breaks, Scott claims that workers were told by Amazon to take a break if and when “they could get it.”
“However, the immense volume of work to be completed prevented Plaintiff and the putative class members from ever taking their break,” the suit states.
The suit alleges that Amazon’s actions have resulted in lower pay for Scott and other workers given that the company deducted 30 minutes from their paychecks for a meal break they did not fully take. It claims that making employees work during their meal and rest breaks entitles them to additional pay at agreed-upon rates or overtime rates, as well as one hour of premium wages for every day they didn’t get to take their meal break.
Furthermore, the suit also accuses Amazon of making Scott and others use their personal cell phones for company tasks, issuing inaccurate wage statements, failing to pay all final wages, and engaging in unfair competition.
Amazon’s treatment of workers has come under increased scrutiny in recent days because of its bonkers Twitter fight with U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others, which a new Recode report states was started after CEO Jeff Bezos expressed his dissatisfaction in recent weeks that Amazon officials weren’t pushing back hard enough against criticisms of the company that he and other leaders considered inaccurate.
The allegation in the spotlight this past week was related to Amazon workers peeing in water bottles because of the pressure to meet productivity goals, a practice the company has staunchly denied. A report by the Intercept, however, found that company management is aware that employees relieve themselves in bags and bottles.
Amazon is facing the largest union vote in its history, the first since 2014, over the next few days as thousands of workers in its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse decide on whether to unionise or not. If the employees in Bessemer are successful in unionising, it could encourage other employees to do the same and ultimately force the company to change how it treats its employees.