15,780 Amazon drivers file pay grievances with the help of a pro-worker law firm
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SAN FRANCISCO—In what may be the biggest joint grievance complaint in years—as opposed to a monster class-action suit several years ago by Wal-Mart workers charging job discrimination—some 15,780 Amazon drivers jointly filed grievances against the retail/warehouse monster over pay.

“We have no idea,” yet, how much the drivers lost in total, their lead attorney, Steven Tindall, said. Tindall and a partner at the pro-worker Gibbs law firm in San Francisco spent years gathering the drivers’ complaints. The drivers are from California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, where state laws are more favorable to such cases. Approximately 7,000 are from Illinois, Tindall said in a phone interview.

In California, even gig economy workers—except Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash drivers—legally must be paid time and a half for any hours over eight per day, just like federal law. Amazon didn’t pay for its drivers’ overtime.

And the California Department of Labor has spent years reclassifying “independent contractors,” particularly port truckers in Los Angeles-Long Beach, as “employees,” covered by state and federal labor laws. Those laws include, especially, the right to unionize. The Teamsters have been in a long campaign to organize the port truckers.

Amazon hires the drivers under its “Flex” program and pays them a set amount daily no matter how far they drive or how many deliveries they make. As a result, “some of the drivers drove thousands of miles,” unpaid, Tindall said.

Instead, Amazon monitored the drivers’ “delivery blocks,” according to the four years of complaints Tindall and his partner collected. Those blocks cover mileage driven and packages delivered. The drivers’ grievances say the set amount Amazon pays doesn’t cover the work they do.

The grievances are all for that. Meanwhile, gasoline, insurance, tires, and wear and tear are all supposed to be covered by a basic payment of 60 cents per mile, the Internal Revenue Service rate. The only way a driver could get more is if the driver kept every single receipt and document. Few do.

And individual drivers often don’t sue because it’s too expensive for them to do so. Few attorneys take such individual cases because, even if they win for their workers, arbitrations can take so long that the attorneys wind up breaking even, at best.

The Amazon drivers can’t sue as a class because they all signed—as a condition of being hired—agreements mandating arbitrators decide any conflict between the driver and Amazon or between the driver and the subcontractor Amazon hires to contract with the driver, Tindall notes.

Tindall expects hearings on the mass grievances to start this year, but he has no idea when there will be a conclusion. One problem is that the American Arbitration Association, the largest such firm in the U.S., literally does not have enough arbitrators to handle all the Amazon grievances.

Tindall, a veteran union- and worker-side labor lawyer in the Bay Area, has one more conclusion from this mass grievance case: The drivers would be a lot better off if they could unionize.

“This one of those examples of what individual workers undergo if they’re not represented by a union,” he says.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.