From Amazon warehouse workers to Google bus drivers, it's tough working a non-tech job at a tech company
Amazon's warehouse workers want to be paid for the time they spend waiting to be searched to confirm they haven't stolen anything during their shift, and they're willing to take the case to the Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs are seeking reimbursement for this time, which can add up to 25 minutes a worker's shift. The Supreme Court heard the workers' arguments on Wednesday, but it seems unlikely that it's going to force Amazon and other companies to pay workers for their end-of-shift screenings, as the New York Times notes. Companies are protected from paying employees for activities that take place before or after their shifts, and Amazon hasn't included "stand in a line and wait to be screened before you leave the warehouse" in its job descriptions.
The fact that people need to fight to be paid for time spent at work is ridiculous, but it's also yet another demonstration of how the technology industry (or any other industry for that matter) often has contempt for the workers who don't spend their time writing code, meeting with marketers, or doing the other technical work for which the companies are known.
Consider that the drivers who shuttle Facebook employees from San Francisco to Menlo Park are contractors instead of full-time employees themselves. These are the people who have to navigate streets filled with protestors who are targeting the so-called "tech elite" riding in the buses, and who make it possible for engineers to collect a salary from Facebook while enjoying life in San Francisco.
Those drivers are now fighting to unionize, and one of the movement's leaders explained why in a letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and the contractor for which they work:
While your employees earn extraordinary wages and are able to live and enjoy life in some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the Bay Area, these drivers can't afford to support a family, send their children to school or, least of all, afford to even dream of buying a house anywhere near where they work.These problems aren't limited to bus drivers. Security guards at many tech companies are contractors with poor benefits, wages, and working conditions, as Alternet reported in 2013:
[A]ccording to SIS employees, everyone starts as part-time and must work their way to a full-time position. Part-timers have no health or retirement benefits, no paid sick leave and no vacation. The hours are unpredictable because the company calls them about a day in advance to dispense shifts. Turnover at SIS is high, partly due to draconian disciplinary measures that make it difficult to advance to a full-time position. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is trying to organize the guards, estimates that only 20 percent of SIS’s employees are full-time.This is how the security guards at a company known for offering employees all kinds of perks, from free lunches and massages to transportation between work and home, are treated. That's starting to change, as Google announced last week that it would be hiring its security guards directly instead of contracting them from another company. But it continues to be a problem at other firms that aren't willing to pay most of their non-technical employees a higher wage.
Now Amazon's warehouse workers are fighting to be paid for time they're required to spend in the workplace -- and that's not the only problem Amazon faces. The people who make sure all of the items purchased through its website are delivered on time are often temp workers who are low-paid, denied benefits, and forced to work in harsh conditions that make it next to impossible to remain employed by their Amazonian overlords.
International Business Times described those conditions in December 2013:
Amazon warehouse employees (or, as the company calls them, “fulfillment center associates”) contend they’re told by Amazon and outsourced managers to meet productivity goals designed to be unattainable for most in an effort to keep them in a perpetual state of insecurity about their continued employment. If they give up or are fired, there’s a legion of temp workers -- recruited by subcontracted labor recruiters who have offices inside the warehouse facility -- waiting to take their turn processing hundreds of packages per hour.The Guardian published a hands-on report about working as a temp worker in an Amazon warehouse in November 2013 that describes the working conditions in starker detail:
It's been a black hole where the lack of any checks upon its power has left a sense that everything is pared to the absolute bone – from the cheapest of the cheap plastic safety boots, which most long-term employees seem to spend their own money replacing with something they can walk in, to the sack-you-if-you're-sick policy, to the 15-minute break that starts wherever you happen to be in the warehouse. On my third morning, at my lowest point, when my energy has run out and my spirits are low, it takes me six minutes to walk to the airport-style scanners, where I spend a minute being frisked. I queue a minute for the loos, get a banana out of my locker, sit down for 30 seconds, and then I get up and walk the six minutes back to my station.Tech companies often tempt people into working for them with high salaries, extra perks, and the creation of a child-like utopia. Meanwhile, all of the people in the background who make those perks possible and do the adult chores of keeping people safe or driving them around the Valley, are paid low wages for hard work with no perks.
These might be tech companies, but they're also built on the shoulders of blue collar workers, and there's little excuse for treating those employees so poorly while building a utopia for other workers.