Delivery Drivers Sue Amazon Over Alleged Wage Violations

Four former drivers for Amazon’s Prime Now delivery service sued the company Tuesday, filing a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The suit, which seeks class action status, alleges that Amazon has intentionally skirted California employment law in order to cut costs and deny benefits to their delivery drivers.

The delivery drivers in question, the four named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, worked for the delivery service in Orange County, California. At the heart of the lawsuit is the difference between independent contractors and full-time or even part-time employees, and how they’re treated under California employment law.

In most states, independent contractors are loosely defined, and are not required to be under the same legal protections as full or part-time employees. California, for instance, mandates workers’ compensation coverage, overtime protection, and health insurance coverage for full-time employees. The delivery drivers, however, are classified as independent contractors, and are not required to be afforded those protections.

Typically, independent contractors are allowed to choose their own hours, and are considered by the law to be in business for themselves, rather than beholden to one employer or another. However, the lawsuit these four delivery drivers have brought against Amazon alleges that the conditions of their contracts with Amazon were clearly an employer-employee relationship.

The trade-off is usually the freedom of being in business for oneself, versus the protections that an employer provides. But the suit brought by the delivery drivers provides some details which suggest that they are not independent contractors at all.

According to the suit, delivery drivers cannot reject work assignments, they cannot request that their deliveries be restricted to a particular geographic area, and if they disobey these rules, they are subject to disciplinary action which can include termination of their employment. Further, the suit goes on to describe the working conditions, which require that delivery drivers work regular shifts, just like employees, perform their duties while wearing an Amazon branded uniform — again, just like employees.

“Despite these and other clear indicia that plaintiffs are and were defendants’ employees, defendants have classified them as ‘independent contractors’ and in so doing have denied them the benefits and protections of California law,” reads the suit, obtained by Re/code.

Delivery drivers for Amazon Prime Now are paid $11 an hour, and are not reimbursed for gas, bridge tolls, or vehicle maintenance, expenses which the lawsuit alleges bring their actual per-hour wages well below California’s $9-an-hour minimum wage.

“These are people who are in no way shape or form in business for themselves,” the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Beth Ross, told the Los Angeles Times. “They’re people who interviewed for a job, were hired for that job, and show up to an Amazon warehouse every day.”

This isn’t the first time Beth Ross and her firm, Leonard Carder, have faced down a multi-million dollar corporation on behalf of mistreated delivery drivers. Earlier this year, the firm brought another suit against FedEx on behalf of its delivery drivers, some of whom were considered independent contractors despite working conditions very similar to those described by the lawsuit against Amazon.

In June, FedEx agreed to pay out $228 million to the plaintiffs of that lawsuit.

Drivers for Uber, another company whose business model relies heavily upon independent contractors, was sued just last month in a class action lawsuit brought by former drivers whose allegations are very similar to those in the Amazon suit.

There’s been increased attention paid to the independent contractor/employee dichotomy recently, in part to the booming “gig-economy” created by companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and Amazon Prime Now — all of which are companies which have enjoyed tremendous financial success this past year, as the Inquisitr reported previously.

Are delivery drivers independent contractors, or are is Amazon just using the law to deny legally mandated protections to employees who deserve them?

[Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images]

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