And then, of course, there`s Flex. If delivery staff continue to move to non-unionized workers and self-employed contractors, the sector could move from an area where workers can support a family to one where they earn less than the minimum wage. This is what happens, according to Viscelli, in the long-haul heavy goods industry. The average long-distance trucker now makes about $40,000, up from the equivalent of $100,000 in 1980. Kelly Cheeseman, an Amazon spokeswoman, told me that Flex was a great opportunity for people to be their own boss and set their own schedule. While workers prefer to be full-time workers rather than independent contractors, the company has a “great diversity” of full-time and part-time offerings, she said. (Of course, many full-time jobs are also physically demanding. Chris Miller, the Cleveland worker, told me that he preferred to work as an employee for Amazon, which is infamous for high loads and employee pressure.) In April, the California Supreme Court ruled that companies should use an “ABC” standard to decide to classify workers. The standard already used in Massachusetts and New Jersey means that a worker is an independent contractor only if the work is done without instruction or control by the employer outside the usual business of the employer and is performed by someone who has his own independent business that performs this type of work.
This may make it more difficult for employers to classify employees as contractors – but nevertheless, it will be difficult for Amazon Flex employees in California to change their ratings. They must file a formal complaint or take the matter to court, provided that Amazon and other gig-economy companies do not reclassify them on their own. “There has been a whole movement to try to curb costs and bring down the cost of labour by classifying drivers as independent contractors, so that companies don`t have to worry about wage laws,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer who has filed numerous complaints against technology companies for misclassifying workers as independent contractors. Amazon Flex employees sometimes earn less than the minimum wage in the city where they live – even in Seattle where the minimum wage is $15 an hour – and they don`t get an hour and a half for the hours they work after 40 hours a week, according to a complaint filed by Liss-Riordan on behalf of Flex employees in washington court. (Amazon has said it does not rule on ongoing litigation) Liss-Riordan says that one of the main obstacles to getting workers to take legal action over their classification is that many Flex employees agree to settle disputes with Amazon through arbitration when signing packages. Companies can now use arbitration clauses to prevent workers from banding together to bring a class action, following a Supreme Court ruling in May. (A new lawsuit, now before the Supreme Court, argues that transportation workers are exempt from this rule.) If I look back at the many things I accepted when I signed up for Flex, I found that I too was governed by a binding arbitration agreement.Back to Blog