Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, and the State of Labor in the U.S.

By David TaylorPublished October 21, 2014

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Despite rising employment and economic growth the rights and well being of workers are still important issues. In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, Amazon workers are fighting for lost wages, and are facing a surprising opponent, the White House.
By David Taylor, 10/21/2014

            Amazon Warehouse workers are taking their case for wages lost in unpaid theft screenings to the Supreme Court, in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (Amazon) v. Busk (Warehouse Workers). The process implemented at Amazon Warehouses designed to reduce thefts can take 20 minutes or more and workers are not compensated. The Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temp company that employs the workers, argues that the screenings aren't "integral and indispensible" to the work of the employees and therefore they aren't required to pay employees for this time. Beyond the simple argument over whether the employees deserve to get paid for this time is the question of whether employers can require employees to do tasks unessential to their job for free.

            Although the workers appear to have precedent on their side, Integrity has a surprising ally: the White House. An amicus brief submitted by the White House to the court cites Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., which determined that employers do not need to pay employees for time spent walking from time clocks to their workstations. Legal grounds aside, the brief goes against the Obama administration's current commitment of fighting for workers. Despite legislative efforts like supporting the increase of the minimum wage to $10.10, the White House is choosing not to support these hourly workers in the courtroom.

            The expanded precedent a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would set is dangerous. The decision could lead to more employees being required to do off-the-clock work and, by extension, pay cuts for employees whose work will go uncompensated. Many believe the decision will go the way of the Busk and the employees, but the nature of the case itself and the White House's support of Integrity is symptomatic of a disturbing trend in workers' rights in the United States. Support for the idea that a company or a boss can force an hourly employee to stay at work and not compensate them for their time undercuts the substance of any pro-labor platform. More disturbing, however, is the Obama administration's apparent disregard for this ideological discrepancy.

            With decreasing participation in unions since the 1980s, workers need, more than ever, an ally in government to protect against exploitative business practices. Although unemployment is falling and some states have successfully raised the minimum wage, the working class is still suffering and has little to bargain with their employers. The administration, despite having a good record of supporting workers, should not be picking and choosing their battles. This Supreme Court decision could have a broad impact on the labor market and the rights of workers. If the current laws are interpreted in favor of Integrity, the doors to exploitation of an already-vulnerable segment of the workforce will swing wide open. The Supreme Court has the power to either support these workers or to turn a blind eye to abuse, and it could be the only ally they have left. The constant battle between labor and ownership, employers and employees, is at the very heart of capitalism, but this struggle continuing unregulated and without neutral arbiters will inevitably cause workers to lose. The very origin and purpose of government is to protect the rights of the governed and few need protecting more than workers who need every dollar from every hour they are working. Since the Obama administration appears to have abandoned its role in this case, the importance of the government's defense would be good for the Supreme Court to remember.