California regulators fine Amazon and Santa Ana-based delivery contractor for stealing wages from drivers

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California’s labor commissioner has fined Amazon.com Services LLC and a Santa Ana-based delivery company a total of $6.4 million for alleged wage theft violations against more than 700 workers, officials said.

An investigation that began in June 2019 found that the drivers for Green Messengers Inc., a contractor that made deliveries on behalf of Amazon in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties, were often too pressed by the crushing load of their assigned routes to stop for breaks, according to a state Department of Industrial Relations news release Monday.

The year-long probe found that delivery drivers were scheduled to work 10-hour shifts, and often had to work more than 11 hours and skip their meal and rest breaks to complete their assigned deliveries due to the high volume of orders, the department said in a statement.

But the investigation also found that, between April 2018 and January 2020, Green Messengers failed to pay its drivers correctly for that extra work, which “resulted in frequent minimum wage, overtime, meal break, rest period and split-shift violations,” the release said.

While Amazon owns a massive fleet of delivery vehicles, it relies on a complex network of regional contractors like Green Messengers to employ many of the drivers who operate those vehicles.

The arrangement typically allows Amazon to skirt certain labor costs and legal liabilities that come with hiring employees directly, but a California law that went into effect in 2015 prevents companies like Amazon from shifting blame to contractors by allowing them to still be held liable for labor violations.

“Contracting out services does not release employers from their duty to ensure workers are being legally compensated,” California labor commissioner Lilia García-Brower said in the release. “In this case, both Green Messengers and Amazon.com Services are responsible for the wage theft that these workers suffered.”

The citations total more than $6.4 million, of which $5.3 million is owed to 718 workers. The breakdown of the amount payable to workers include:

  • $3.4 million in damages and waiting-time penalties
  • $762,850 in penalty assessments for not providing proper wage statements
  • $882,735 for split-shift, meal and rest break premiums
  • $281,195 for minimum wage, overtime and contract wages

The remaining $1.1 million in fines are to be paid to the state by Green Messengers Inc. for civil penalties, officials said.

According to the news release, both companies have appealed the fines.

Under the appeal procedure, the Labor Commissioner’s Office will hold a hearing before a hearing officer who will affirm, modify or dismiss the citations.

Amazon has come under fire before for the working conditions it imposes on delivery drivers. Just last month, the e-commerce giant agreed to pay nearly $62 million to settle charges that the e-commerce giant took tips from its delivery drivers. 

An investigation by the Federal Trade Commission found that the company withheld tips meant for Flex delivery drivers for more than two years, even though it promised shoppers and drivers it would do so. 

Amazon didn’t stop taking the money until 2019, when the company found out about the FTC’s investigation, the regulating agency said at the time.

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