Reader Mark O. suggests that I comment on the case Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk which the Supreme Court heard arguments in this week. It’s popularly known as the case of whether Amazon workers should be paid to stand in line, but the case isn’t about Amazon and the case has some pretty widespread implications including for travel.
Employees of the staffing company in this case (Integrity Staffing Solutions) would wait in line to be security screened on their way out of Amazon warehouses. They weren’t paid for this time. The time is spent for the benefit of the employer, at least according to the workers’ brief — the point is to ensure that they aren’t stealing from the warehouse. They’re suing for back wages owed. The argument is that hourly workers are being paid based on time should be paid for all of the time spent at the job, more or less.
I’m not an attorney, and have only a passing familiarity with the relevant case law. Workers don’t get paid for all their job-related time, like commuting or going through airport security. The point of airport security isn’t primarily to benefit the employer.
Since the whole point of the case going to the Court is that it’s a tough case with persuasive arguments on both sides, and I’m very much a non-expert here, I’m not going to weigh in on what I think the Court ought to do in this content.
What I’ll point out is the analogue for travel. Flight attendant pay. Flight attendants are generally paid from door close to arrival only.
One possible legal principle that could come from the Court’s decision is that hourly pay is required when time spent benefits the employer. Certainly flight attendants make announcements during boarding and provide direction to passengers. What about time spent traveling from gate to gate for their next trip? They may bid for their trips, so have some control over scheduling, but certainly aren’t responsible for flight delays where they simply have to wait around for their next flight.
All interesting of course, but something especially relevant to me as I think about this is that most flight attendants are represented by unions in the U.S. and the terms of their contract — when they are paid, how much, what kinds of expense allowances they receive (to name just a few items) — are intensely negotiated over long periods of time by specialists acting on their behalf. And each contract is a balance of costs, getting the most for flight attendants and those things their union has determined are most important, and ‘giving’ on those things they consider less important, as the airline looks to balance their total labor costs.
In other words, flight attendants and their representatives have carefully considered and agreed to the current method of pay in exchange for other benefits they receive and in exchange for the wage they’re earning for the time that is paid. At that level I don’t feel like they’re being cheated.
What do you think?