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Class Fights Amazon’s Wage Deductions

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Amazon.com warehouse workers say in a class action that the company docks them 30 minutes of pay when crowds at the punch clock make them three minutes late.

Hundreds of "pickers" and "packers" at Amazon's California warehouses are given a three-minute grace period when they start their shifts and after lunch breaks, but security checks and too few punch clocks regularly result in lost vacation time, smaller paychecks and termination, lead plaintiff Eric Chavez say in the April 6 complaint in Superior Court.

"The trail of terminated employees is littered with those who simply could not make it to the clock, even if it was in eyeshot," Chavez says in the lawsuit.

He claims that Amazon has "a uniform set of specific policies that impeded an employee's ability to timely clock in," and that, "despite all precautions, Chavez and hundred of other employees could not always clock in within the 3-minute 'grace' period."

They have no choice but to clock in and work without pay for 26 minutes, "in order to please the employer and maintain their employment," Chavez says.

Amazon calls its more than 50 U.S. warehouses "order fulfillment centers." Pickers and packers retrieve and package products for delivery. Chavez describes the work as "productive and labor-intense."

He says that in a "typical scenario" of "wage theft," a worker might clock in more than three but less than 30 minutes late.

If an employee is five minutes late to clock in for his or her shift and then five minutes late returning from the mandatory lunch break, he says Amazon's "punch-clock algorithm" would deduct 50 minutes for 10 minutes of missed work.

To account for the logjam in security lines and at the punch clocks, and to avoid accumulating points toward automatic termination, Chavez says, "most employees arrived well before the start of their shifts, unpaid, and many left their breaks long before 30 minutes of duty-free break-time was provided."

But even that, he says, does not always save them from the unfair deductions.

Chavez claims that Amazon and its co-defendant subsidiary Golden State FC, which signs the paychecks, "often engage in a uniform set of specific policies that impeded an employee's ability to timely clock in, resulting in lost wages or non-compliant breaks without any fault on the part of the employee."

He says it would be all right if Amazon used a point-based discipline system for employees who clock in after the three-minute grace period, but that California law does not allow a company to "also penalize employees by confiscating earned wages."

He seeks class certification, restitution and damages for unfair and deceptive business practices and other labor law violations, including improper deductions from wages and forfeiture of unused vacation wages.

He is represented by J. Jason Hill with Cohelan, Khoury & Singer in San Diego.

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