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Warehouse industry is targeted by Biden’s salary enforcers

(Bloomberg) — The US government’s minimum wage enforcers plan to zero in on the warehouse and logistics industry, raising scrutiny over a sector criticized during the pandemic for its labor practices.

The combination of explosive growth, low wages and the widespread use of contract workers is demanding that more attention be paid to how the sector treats its “essential workers,” said acting administrator of the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Jessica Luman said. in an interview on Tuesday. “We want to make sure that the result, as we emerge out of this pandemic, is not an opportunity for over-exploitation of workers, but instead an opportunity we have learned and could be an opportunity to empower more workers. For. ,

In an emailed statement, Luman’s agency promised “vigorous enforcement” as part of a new initiative, stepping up efforts to ensure that warehousing and logistics workers receive required hourly wages and overtime pay. is paid, can take the time prescribed by law and is not retaliated against exercising your rights. A spokesman said the agency has been conducting 70 investigations in the warehouse and logistics sector in recent months, and three-quarters have found violations of the law.

The new initiative will include a major focus on the misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees – an issue that the Biden administration has vowed to address more vigorously. “One of our biggest challenges is that there are business models that are specifically designed to call an employee an independent contractor in order to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime,” Luman said.

Applying an Obama-era concept called “strategic enforcement”, Luman’s division aims to use its limited resources to investigate and promote change in industries with widespread infringement, rather than by workers filing complaints. and then only work on ad hoc, one-off checks.

“When workers understand their rights, employers understand their obligations, and we support all of that with a strong enforcement program, it can have an incredible impact,” Luman said. “It can really change the dynamics in a sector and it can empower workers.”

Warehouse working conditions have attracted more attention during the pandemic as many workers risk their health and lives to shelter customers at home. Employees have gone on strikes and litigation across the country over security concerns. They also secured a new law in California that requires companies to disclose their facilities’ productivity quotas and prohibits employers from enforcing them in ways that prohibit workers from using the bathroom.

Amazon.com Inc., which benefited from a boom in online shopping during the pandemic, has drawn a lot of criticism. While the company spent billions to help make its facilities Covid-proof, employees walked out demanding more security. A group of workers also filed a lawsuit claiming Amazon was putting them and their families at risk. A federal judge dismissed the complaint, and Amazon denied the allegations, but employees asked the appeals court to revive it.

Amazon warehouse workers in New York and Alabama have launched a union campaign, as have Los Angeles port truckers who claim XPO Logistics Inc. has unfairly misclassified them as contractors. (XPO denies wrongdoing.)

The Wage and Hour Division announced last week that it aims to recruit 100 new investigators, and will have more appointments later this year. Luman, a former building trades labor leader from Minnesota, has been running the agency for a year. To permanently lead the agency is President Joe Biden’s nominee David Weil, who served in the same role during Barack Obama’s second term after leading a report for the division advocating a strategic enforcement approach.

– With the help of Benjamin Penn.

© 2022 Bloomberg LP

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