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Articles Tagged with wage theft

On June 29, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that consumer goods giant, Amazon, must defend itself in a class action lawsuit brought by warehouse employees claiming violations of wage and hour laws arising from Amazon’s mandatory post-shift security screenings.

IMG_4764-300x165According to the Complaint, at the end of the workday, Amazon’s warehouse employees must submit to a lengthy security screening before they are permitted to leave Amazon’s premises. The lawsuit alleges that the security screening requires hundreds of employees to wait together before each individual must walk through a metal detector and place his or her personal items on a conveyor belt to be scanned via x-ray. If, after the initial screening, Amazon determines that additional screening is necessary, the employee must then report to the secondary screening area for a manual search of the employee’s person. These screenings are intended by Amazon to prevent theft of goods and can take approximately half an hour to complete after the employees have already clocked out of their shifts. Employees are not compensated for the time spent in these screenings.

The Complaint also alleges that the same security screening procedure is required of any employee that wishes to leave Amazon’s premises for his or her unpaid, 30 minute lunch break. Given the vastness of Amazon’s parking lot and remoteness of its premises, the screening allegedly prevents employees from going off site for their meal breaks. The lawsuit claims that Amazon violated federal and state wage and hour laws by failing to count time spent in these mandatory screenings as “hours worked” for purposes of calculating wages and overtime.

Whether a worker is afforded protection under federal and New Jersey employment laws is often determined whether they are an employee or an independent contractor. Many employment laws provide protection only to employees, with little to no protection for independent contractors. For example, employees have access to wage theft protection, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, family leave laws, health and safety, and anti-discrimination protections, whereas independent contractors may not. In situations where a worker is misclassified as an independent contractor, rather than an employee, that worker can be deprived of the protections that they are entitled to under the law.

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Classification of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor has become more and more important in our going growing technological economy. The growing accessibility of technology provides a vast digital marketplace that is now at the fingertips of millions of consumers. App-based companies, such as Uber, Lyft, and Postmates have taken advantage of this accessibility and services quickly and conveniently. To accomplish this goal, these companies typically elicit services from workers on a job-by-job basis, commonly referred to as “gigs”. As this “gig” economy expands and becomes a more viable source of income for many workers, it brings to the surface questions with respect to the classification of the workers engaging in it.

As a result of the increasing frequency of worker misclassification, New Jersey organized the Task Force on Employee Misclassification to investigate and address the issue.  In its July 2019 report, the Task Force found that while prominent within the “gig” economy, this misclassification extends to workers many sectors, especially those in labor-intensive and low-wage positions. In fact, Federal studies and state-level agency audits suggest that between 10 and 30 percent of employers have misclassified employees as independent contractors, a number that has grown by upwards of 40% in recent years. In addition to depriving employees of protections under the law, these employers have avoided payment of income taxes as well as contributions to social programs, such as Social Security, on the misclassified employees.

Defenders of labor rights face an uphill battle addressing the widespread abuses facing workers around the world.  Most industrialized nations have legal protections in place establishing standards for labor conditions, but in many parts of the world this is not the case. In our globalized economy, corporations in industrialized nations take advantage of this reality and set their manufacturing and production operations to those nations, to access relatively inexpensive labor.  In the worst of these cases, workers have no protections whatsoever, and live in slavery. Recently, a United States federal court took a step to hold some of these companies responsible, for being at least complicit in a system supported by slavery, as the court put it in “receiving cocoa at a price that would not be obtainable without employing child slave labor.”

Last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a California District Court Judge’s in the case John Doe I, et. al. v. Nestle, S.A., et. al.  In this case, the unnamed plaintiffs allege that a group of corporate defendants in the business of processing cocoa beans were complicit in a system of widespread child slavery that occurred on cocoa plantations in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, a nation on the West African coast.   The plaintiffs in the case, identified only as John Doe’s I–VI, allege that they were victimized by these companies and the decisions those companies made in pursuing profits, up to and including condoning the use of child slave labor on the plantations of their cocoa suppliers.

The defendants in this case, Nestle, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland, are each large multinational corporations and are among the world’s largest manufacturers, purchasers, processors, and retail sellers of cocoa beans.  The plaintiffs are not U.S. citizens, but were able to file their suit in U.S. Federal Court on the basis of the Alien Tort Statute, or the “ATS.”  That statute, originally passed in the Judiciary Act of 1789, provides original jurisdiction to the federal courts for foreign citizens to seek redress for harms suffered as the result of a tort committed in violation of the law of nations. Among other torts, courts have found torture, genocide, war crimes, and slavery to be actionable under the ATS.

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