In their 5-2 split decision, the justices found that Amazon must abide by Pennsylvania’s minimum wage laws, which are stricter than their federal counterparts.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has found Amazon liable to pay warehouse workers for the time they spent undergoing security checks.
According to Reuters, the state Supreme Court determined that Amazon was subjected to Pennsylvania pay statutes, which are stricter than their federal counterparts. In their ruling, the justices observed that state law defines “hours worked” as any time a worker is required to be on their employer’s premises—including the several minutes each day that Amazon employees spend going through security.
Several years earlier, in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Amazon employees were not entitled to recompense for the time they had spent in security lines.
Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, a Pennsylvania district court dismissed the first wave of local lawsuits against Amazon.
However, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the situation more ambiguous, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether the state’s minimum wage laws could and should be applied to instances in which workers are compelled to perform or be subjected to tasks not directly related to their principal duties.
In a 5-2 split decision, the justices dismissed Amazon’s argument that, because time spent in security checkpoints does not amount to “labor or toil,” it should not be considered part of an employee’s “workweek.”
“The [Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act] plainly and unambiguously requires payment for ‘all hours worked,’ […] signifying the legislature’s intent that any portion of the hours worked by an employee does not constitute a mere trifle,” Justice Debra Todd wrote in the majority opinion.
In his dissent, Justice Thomas Saylor said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should never have accepted certified questions from the 6th Circuit, since the lawsuit contains several factual disputes, including whether employees could avoid screenings by leaving their bags at home.
Nevertheless, the ruling represents a win for labor advocates—especially against Amazon, a company which has faced repeated accusations of employee exploitation.
Attorney Peter Winebrake, representing the Amazon warehouse workers, told The Morning Call he is pleased with the ruling and hope it paves the way for an eventual trial.
“I’m delighted with the opinion and looking forward after many years pressing this case to a conclusion,” Winebrake said.
“What the state Supreme Court said is, ‘No, all time is valuable, all time is compensable. You’re not allowed to not pay people for their time because it is insignificant or de minimus.”
Winebrake, adds The Morning Call, says he expects the lawsuit to return to the federal appeals court in Kentucky, after which he plans to request that the complaint be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern Pennsylvania.
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