Amazon “Prime Now” Drivers Accuse Company Of Wage Theft

If you’re in one of the markets where Amazon offers one- to two-hour “Prime Now” deliveries, the courier who comes to your door may be wearing an Amazon uniform, but they might not be Amazon employees. Some Prime Now drivers in California are accusing the e-commerce giant of using their “independent contractor” status to get away without paying them a legal wage.

In both Los Angeles and in the San Francisco Bay area, Prime Now couriers are contracted out through third party messenger services like Scoobeez, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

These drivers say that even though they are classified as independent contractors, they are really full-time employees who aren’t receiving the benefits and protections of that designation.

According to the complaint [PDF] filed yesterday in a California Superior Court in Los Angeles, the Scoobeez drivers are required to work regular shifts, wear uniforms — shirts and hats — that identify them to customers as representatives of Amazon Prime Now, and agree to exclusively deliver packages for Amazon.

The drivers claim they are required to show up 15 minutes early for every shift but receive no compensation. This runs counter to the traditional idea of hourly contract employees who are paid for all the time they spend at work. Likewise, if work is slow, drivers say they have been sent home without being compensated for the rest of their shift.

Additionally, these drivers allege they are sometimes made to work six or seven consecutive days, which would trigger overtime pay if they were actual employees.

In some ways, the plaintiffs say they are really Amazon employees, as it is the e-tailer and not Scoobeez that determines how many and which packages are assigned to drivers. According to the complaint, Amazon also determines the order in which all packages are delivered by each driver.

In spite of their independent contractor status, drivers say they can’t negotiate their hourly wage but must accept the rate given by the defendants. Yet they allege Amazon and Scoobeez have not only reserved the right to change what drivers are paid, but have exercised that right.

The complaint says that these drivers were hired based on a wage of $11/hour plus $2.50 for every delivery made, and tips. Then last month, that per-delivery bonus was eliminated and drivers were made to sign new contracts that only included the $11/hour base pay plus tips. In all cases, the drivers say they were never allowed to receive copies of any of their employment contracts.

There is an Amazon app that allows customers to tip their Prime Now drivers, and Amazon claims that all tips to the courier, but the plaintiffs claim they are not allowed to see how much a customer has tipped so they have no idea if they are actually receiving this money.

Because drivers are made to use their own vehicles and they are not reimbursed for fuel, insurance, and tolls, some couriers say that they end up netting less than the $9/hour minimum wage in California.

The potential class action — which seeks back wages, waiting time penalties, restitution, and other damages — alleges that by classifying these drivers as independent contractors, Amazon and Scoobeez are depriving the couriers of “substantial rights and benefits of employment” as “part of an on-going unfair and/or unlawful business practice.”

In addition to the allegation of sometimes paying below minimum wage, the complaint also says the defendants failed to compensate these drivers for overtime, reimburse them for vital business expenses, provide off-duty meal time as required by state law, and furnish accurate wage statements.

“Amazon’s mission to deliver ‘Now’ at no additional cost to its customers is being funded by the delivery drivers,” says Oakland-based attorney Beth Ross who is representing the drivers. “Unlike the drones that Amazon hopes to eventually replace them with, these drivers are human beings with rent to pay and families to feed.”

This is familiar territory for Ross. In 2014, she reached a $227 million settlement deal with FedEx over similar allegations.