Workers raise concerns about wage theft by Amazon subcontractors

EAGAN, Minn.–Workers subcontracted to deliver packages for Amazon, citing multiple instances of not being paid, took their concerns to the online shopping giant’s Eagan facility in the early morning hours of Nov. 20.

The action in the Twin Cities suburb marked the first step in a campaign to raise awareness of wage theft occurring in the Amazon business model, which uses large numbers of subcontractors and so-called independent contractors. “Independent contractors” under labor law lack worker rights, including the right to unionize.

The Eaton demonstration also marks a move beyond what other Amazon drivers have done: Sued. They won worker misclassification/wage theft cases recently against Amazon and its subcontractors in Seattle – the firm’s headquarters – Los Angeles and Arizona.

Daniel Baye, a St. Paul resident recently arrived from Ethiopia, spoke for the group. He delivered packages for Amazon until he quit recently because of unpaid wages.

Baye was employed by Trinity Couriers, a Texas-based subcontractor that hires drivers to deliver packages for Amazon. He was one of hundreds of mostly East African drivers who deliver the growing number of Amazon packages every single day around Minnesota.

“In my country I was a professional civil engineer, and I was working this job to pay my bills and to be able to study and get back to my profession,” he said. “This has been shocking to see how this country treats immigrants doing work that people seem to take for granted.”

Baye, like all drivers, worked for a daily rate of $165 per route, delivering between 200 and 250 packages per route. Many days the job took 10-12 hours of consecutive work.

Baye worked 9.5 days and quit when his employer substantially underpaid him and didn’t promptly fix the error. He first told management of the unpaid wages in August. He also contacted the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, which sent a letter Aug. 28 stating Trinity owes him $651 in unpaid wages. The company has not responded.

“When I was delivering Amazon packages, I was hoping to get my own apartment instead of living with family, but getting my wages stolen ended any hopes of me moving out,” Baye continued. “Fortunately, my relatives have been generous, but I am still staying at my relatives’ house. It is unfair to them and unfair to me.”

Other Trinity delivery workers and supporters joined Baye at the job action in front of the Amazon warehouse in Eagan. Shortly after it began, manager Tom Schmidt came out to see what was going on. After listening to Baye’s account, Schmidt said he, “appreciated you bringing this forward” and said he would “look into it.”

Trinity is one of at least three subcontractors hiring workers to deliver packages from the Eagan facility, workers said. In addition, Amazon uses a mix of outside entities – such as the U.S. Postal Service, Fedex and UPS – and Uber drivers to make deliveries. The complexity of this system can make it difficult to address illegal actions like wage theft.

“I am incredibly disappointed not only with the company but also with my experience working in America,” Baye said. “This experience is something that too many people face and it has changed my mentality about fairness in America. All of the things I heard about racism and unfairness were shown to be true. My hope is that this company doesn’t represent the rest of the country.”

Baye is fighting back with the Awood Center, a new worker center in Minneapolis. Organizers with Awood have spoken with six additional employees who allege they are owed money from work they did delivering Amazon packages for Trinity.

Source: PAI