Amazon drivers file 15,000 claims alleging they are missing out on wages

Thousands of delivery drivers filed lawsuits against Amazon on Tuesday, alleging that the company’s designation of them as independent contractors rather than employees led to unpaid wages and other financial losses.

The two law firms spearheading the effort said about 15,860 Amazon Flex drivers have filed arbitration claims with the American Arbitration Association, where 453 similar cases are already pending.

Amazon’s Flex program, which was created in 2015, registers drivers to deliver packages in their own cars and a special app.

The company sees this job as a flexible, part-time opportunity that allows people to earn extra income at hours of their choosing. According to Amazon, most drivers earn $18-$25 per hour, although how much they earn can depend on other factors such as their location and delivery times.

The arbitration claims filed Tuesday were filed by drivers in California, Illinois and Massachusetts, which have rules that limit the amount of control companies can exercise over independent contractors. The claims, collected over four years by attorneys Joseph Sellers and Steven Tindall, argue that the drivers should be classified as Amazon employees rather than independent contractors, based on laws in three states.

Lawyers say the change would allow Flex drivers to collect unpaid wages because Amazon only pays them for a predetermined number of hours, regardless of how long it takes to make deliveries. It would also allow Flex drivers to receive overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week and be reimbursed for work-related expenses such as fuel costs and vehicle wear and tear.

Fuel and other vehicle costs are “a huge expense for our customers,” Tindall said in an interview. He also said that one of the clients represented in the lawsuit worked seven days a week making deliveries for Amazon during the holiday season and was never paid overtime.

In a prepared statement, Amazon spokesman Branden Baribeau extolled the benefits of the Flex program, saying it gives “individuals the ability to set their own schedule and be their own boss, while earning a competitive wage.”

“We hear from most Amazon Flex delivery partners that they like the program’s flexibility and we are proud of the work they do for customers every day,” Baribeau said.

Tindall and Sellers say they have so far resolved seven of the eight arbitration claims against Amazon they have brought to court. The drivers they represented in these cases received an average of $9,000 in compensation.

Amazon’s business model for its workforce – made up of independent contractors and third-party companies that allow the company to avoid unionizing – is under scrutiny and challenges from all sides.

A bipartisan group of more than 30 U.S. senators sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy last week asking for more information about the company’s relationships with the thousands of independent businesses that make millions of deliveries every day through the Amazon program Delivery Service Partners.

In March, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that classified Flex drivers as employees – a decision that would have allowed them to be covered by the state’s unemployment insurance system and eligible for unemployment benefits if laid off.

The Teamsters union, which is trying to organize Amazon drivers, also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last year, questioning how the company classifies some of its drivers.