Amazon Keeps Getting Sued for Paying Drivers Less Than Minimum Wage

In February, Seattle-area Amazon drivers received settlement notices that they'd won $8.2 million in a class action settlement pending court approval.
March 19, 2021, 1:00pm
Amazon box.
Getty Images
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Amazon and companies it contracts to deliver packages across the country are facing a rash of lawsuits alleging they failed to pay drivers the minimum wage and overtime and provide mandated rest and meal breaks under pressure to complete Amazon deliveries on time.

In late February, Amazon delivery drivers working for eight contractors in the Seattle area in Washington State received notices that they'd won $8.2 million in a class action settlement for wage violations, according to a court settlement notice that will go before a judge in May 2021 for final approval. 

Advertisement

The class action lawsuit was filed in Washington state in 2017 by two Amazon delivery drivers, Gus Ortiz and Mark Fredley, who alleged that an Amazon delivery company called Jungle Trux required them to deliver between 150 and 200 packages a day and failed to provide legally mandated rest and lunch breaks, and refused to pay drivers for those missed breaks. 

Court and government documents show that these wage theft violations impacting Amazon's delivery drivers were rampant across the United States between 2017 and 2020. Last week, the state of California fined Amazon $6.4 million for failing to pay overtime and offer rest breaks to 700 contracted delivery drivers in Southern California between 2018 and 2020. In 2019, Amazon delivery drivers in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey won $1.8 million in unpaid wages. 

“Amazon does not tolerate violations of labor laws," Leah Seay, an Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard. "Where we find repeated violations, or an inability to correct labor violations, we terminate contracts with DSP program participants.”

Though Amazon's delivery drivers operate Amazon-emblazoned vans, wear Amazon uniforms, and are trained by Amazon employees, they are technically not employed directly by Amazon but by small contractors, known as "delivery service partners," that operate out of Amazon warehouses around the country. 

Advertisement

Amazon has been sued in many of these wage theft cases, as lawsuits claim that Amazon serves as a joint employer of its delivery drivers because of the extensive control it exerts over them. "Amazon [is responsible for] virtually every aspect of [drivers'] jobs, including the existence of the job itself," the Washington State lawsuit against Amazon and eight of its contractors reads. 

Collectively, the lawsuits repeat similar stories of how Amazon lacked a streamlined process for paying drivers and under financial pressure from Amazon, delivery companies frequently broke the law in order to squeeze productivity out of their drivers. Many Amazon delivery companies earn revenue based on whether packages get delivered successfully on time (undelivered packages are known as "concessions.")

The lawsuits allege that between 2018 and mid-2020, Amazon's delivery drivers were frequently paid daily rates, such as $135 a day, to deliver packages for 10 hours. But because of high delivery quotas, drivers often worked more than 11 continuous hours, not pausing for legally-mandated lunch and rest breaks. 

Even after drivers had finished delivering the packages in their vans, drivers are frequently asked by dispatchers to "rescue" other drivers, according to the lawsuits. Though they qualified for overtime, Amazon's delivery companies did not pay drivers for extra hours spent on the road. Often this meant drivers earned less than the minimum wage. To make matters worse, delivery companies often did not track how many hours their drivers had worked. 

Advertisement

Amazon is currently battling at least four class action lawsuits in Texas, Ohio, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington, Florida, Illinois, and Maryland, according to legal documents reviewed by Motherboard on Pacer, the federal database of court cases. 

Florida driver Andrea Thomas "was paid $130 per scheduled ten-hour shift and she was not paid an overtime premium, despite regularly working 50-60 hours or more per week," the complaint for an ongoing lawsuit against Amazon and a delivery company called JSTC in Melbourne, Florida, reads.   

Another ongoing lawsuit alleges an Amazon delivery company called Sheard Loman Transport, operating out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, terminated Heather Gongaware, a dispatcher in 2018 who threatened legal action for not receiving overtime pay and organized with her colleagues on the app GroupMe. At the time, the owner of the company fired her and told her "she was being terminated for discussing legal options for recovering unpaid overtime with other drivers," according to the lawsuit.

"I never filled out a timesheet. The manager did it for us," a former Amazon delivery driver who worked for Jungle Trux in 2018 in the Seattle area, and received a legal notice in February that he was eligible for part of the Washington state settlement, told Motherboard. The amount each driver receives from the settlement will depend on how long they worked. The former delivery driver said he received a notice that he will receive $1,000 for work between October 2018 and November 2019. Motherboard granted him anonymity because he feared retaliation from Amazon. 

Advertisement

Jungle Trux's attorneys did not respond to Motherboard's request for comment.  

Under the Federal Labor Standards Act of 1938, companies must guarantee their employees overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week, even when workers are paid daily rates. In many states, workers also must receive unpaid meal breaks and paid rest breaks on their shifts, and must be paid at least the minimum hourly wage, including if it falls below the day rate. 

In 2018, Amazon launched its delivery service partner program, which was designed to allow small businesses, capped at 40 vans, to operate out of Amazon warehouses and employ their own delivery drivers. This program allowed Amazon to rapidly scale up its last mile delivery network to offer free one-day shipping for Amazon Prime members, while shirking financial and legal responsibility for maintaining vehicles and paying and providing benefits and protections to drivers who deliver its packages under exhausting conditions. "[In the early days], it was like the Wild West," the former Amazon delivery driver from Washington said. 

In California, the recent state investigation that resulted in $6.4 million in penalties found that between April 2017 and January 2020, drivers at a Amazon delivery service partner Green Messengers who were scheduled to work 10-hour days often worked 11 or more hours to complete their routes—resulting in minimum wage violations, unpaid overtime, and missed rest and meal break violations. Amazon and its affiliated delivery company's fine amounts to $7,388 per worker, though some of these penalties will be paid to the state. 

Advertisement

The California Labor Commissioner is investigating an independent business we previously partnered with," Leah Seay, the Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard. "We were not aware of the investigation and are appealing the citation.”

Amazon did not respond to a question from Motherboard about whether all its delivery companies have switched from daily to hourly rates paid but told Motherboard that its contracts with all of their delivery companies now require that they track and pay for hours worked.

An Amazon delivery driver organizer and delivery company owner told Motherboard that in 2020 many delivery companies transitioned away from paying daily rates to a streamlined process that requires hourly rates and an electronic timekeeping systems, such as ADP and Paycom. An organizer in Southern California, told Motherboard that they hadn't seen local Amazon delivery companies pay workers day rates for a year. Motherboard agreed to keep these sources anonymous because they feared retaliation. The company owner in Washington state said electronic time-keeping is now required of delivery companies in his region and paying drivers daily rates has been banned. These new policies, they say, have helped resolve wage theft problems by requiring workers to clock in and out every time they work.

Do you have a tip to share with us about working for an Amazon DSP? We’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with the author Lauren via email lauren.gurley@vice.com or on Signal 201-897-2109.

The Philadelphia class action law firm, Berger Montague, which has at least three open wage theft cases against Amazon around the country, has an open nationwide call for Amazon delivery drivers who believe they are owed back wages from Amazon and delivery service partners. Lawyers at this firm declined Motherboard's request for comment.