Dec 9, 2014 · 2 minutes

Amazon's workers weren't hired to stand in a line, and that means the company won't have to pay them for time spent doing so at the end of their shifts, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The decision comes after Amazon workers complained that they would sometimes spend up to 25 minutes waiting to be searched at the end of their shift as part of the company's loss-prevention program. They wanted to be paid for that time, but Amazon didn't want to pay them. So the case made its way to the Supreme Court, which issued its decision early today.

I wrote when the case first arrived in the Supreme Court that it's ridiculous to require people to stand in a line and not pay them for it because it isn't in their job description. The Supreme Court disagrees.

"Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court decision, "but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers."

Put another way, Amazon is free to force its contractors through this anti-theft program without paying them for the mandatory wait because their job is to move boxes around. If that's the case, why aren't those workers paid based on the amount of product they move instead of the hourly wage Amazon currently offers? Workers should be consistently paid for their time or their output  -- this decision lets Amazon cherry-pick whatever costs less.

The loss comes as other Amazon workers, ranging from its warehouse laborers in Germany to the freelancers behind its Mechanical Turk service, battle for better working conditions. (Blue collar workers for other tech companies, such as the shuttle drivers at Facebook and the security guards at Apple, are also fighting to improve both their conditions and wages.)

Unfortunately, none of these protests are likely to change Amazon's labor practices, at least in the short-term. As I explained in a post about the strike in Germany:

But even though Amazon is one of the companies most criticized for its labor practices, from its decision to use temp employees to its refusal to pay its workers for the time they spend waiting to be frisked as part of the company’s loss-prevention program, it’s unlikely to change any time soon. The hundreds of workers expected to strike today are hardly worth Amazon’s attention. And as the company told Reuters, it has 28 distribution centers in Europe and many of the workers it hired for the holiday season continue to work despite the strike. Amazon views its workers as cogs in a machine, and apparently the union behind this strike hasn’t stopped enough of those cogs for the company to panic.
By now it's surprising that Amazon's workers even bother trying to fight the company. It has the resources to replace them whenever it wants, its operation is large enough that it can cover almost any loss in laborers, and apparently the Supreme Court is on its side. The message to non-technical workers for a tech company has never been clearer: you can be easily disposed of, and you should be grateful for the pittance you earn already, cretins.