workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

Boss Law

If anyone was in any doubt about whose interests the U.S. legal system serves, they need look no further than this week’s unanimous Supreme Court decision holding that Amazon and the subcontractor through which it employs its warehouse workers is entitled to steal time from those workers — not once in a while, but every single day.

Amazon warehouse workers clock out and then spend 25 minutes (sometimes longer) in long lines waiting for security guards to make sure they aren’t “stealing” any of the product of their labor. It takes so long because Amazon doesn’t pay the workers for the time, and so has no incentive to keep the lines moving by staggering shifts or hiring more security guards or dispensing with the searches altogether.

“Justice” Clarence Thomas, writing for a unanimous court, held (in Moshe Marvit’s summary, writing for In These Times):

that the workers are not eligible for pay for the time they spend in the security screenings. The screenings are not the principal activity of Amazon because they were not hired to go through screenings, and they are not integral and indispensable because Amazon could have easily eliminated the screenings. The Court’s argument, then, is that because it is unnecessary for Amazon to execute long security screenings to conduct its business, it need not pay these workers for the required time they spend in these screenings.

It’s wage theft, pure and simple. And because the victims are workers, it’s perfectly legal.

It is not perfectly legal, however, to kill workers. A person who murders 29 workers by deliberately subjecting them to unsafe working conditions faces the possibility of serving as much as six years in jail.

Former Massey Energy CEO Donald Blankenship was recently indicted on criminal  charges stemming from an April 2010 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners. He faces two counts of conspiracy in widespread safety and health violations and two counts of securities fraud for lying to investors about the company’s safety practices in order to bolster stock prices. The indictment alleges a deliberate scheme to cut back on safety measures in order to maximize production and profitability at the mine, one of Massey’s most profitable.

Blankenship faces a maximum of six years in prison for killing the 29 miners, and up to 25 years and $5 million in fines for defrauding his fellow capitalists. There is, after all, no crime more heinous than robbing capitalists.

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