Amazon, contractors settle wage-theft lawsuit by Seattle-area drivers for $8.2 million

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A delivery driver works at an Amazon warehouse in Goodyear, Arizona, in 2019. (Ross D. Franklin / AP)

Amazon and Seattle-area delivery contractors have agreed to an $8.2 million class-action settlement with drivers who alleged wage theft when they were delivering the commerce giant’s packages.

The settlement stems from a 2017 suit brought by two drivers, Gus Ortiz and Mark Fredley. The drivers weren’t directly employed by Amazon — they worked for an intermediary company, Jungle Trux, one of hundreds of third-party logistics outfits that Amazon has contracted with in the past decade to speed deliveries to customers’ doorsteps.

In their lawsuit, Ortiz and Fredley said Amazon was just as culpable as Jungle Trux in forcing them to work without lunch or rest breaks to deliver between 150 and 200 packages a day to Amazon customers. The drivers said they were never paid for the missed breaks. An attorney for Jungle Trux declined to comment.

The drivers wore Amazon uniforms, followed Amazon’s rule book for package delivery, and were supervised by Amazon employees, according to the lawsuit.

“The lack of rest and meal breaks was part of the culture for Amazon delivery drivers,” said Seattle driver Henry Abreu in the lawsuit. “It was just the way it was. Amazon assigned us a certain number of packages that we were required to deliver in the time allotted by Amazon and according to Amazon’s instructions.

“If we did not finish within the allotted time,” he said, “Amazon would issue negative marks against us.” Abreu, who worked for the now-defunct Amazon contractor Delivery Force, said he urinated in a bottle he kept in the van during delivery shifts because he didn’t have enough time to use the restroom.

Abreu and other drivers working for similar Seattle-area Amazon delivery contractors said they were expected to show up to work at 4 a.m. but not allowed to clock in until 90 minutes later, according to declarations in the lawsuit.

Catherine Pettigrew, a Tacoma-based driver for Amazon contractor Progistics Distribution, said in a declaration filed in the suit that Progistics issued her paychecks, but Amazon handled most other aspects of her employment. The company trained her, screened her employment application, and briefed her before and after the start of each shift.

Meanwhile, “Amazon did not make any effort to arrange my route or my schedule to ensure that I received a paid rest break,” she said.

Progistics did not immediately respond to questions.

In a statement, Amazon said it does not tolerate violations of labor laws by its delivery contractors.

“Where we find repeated violations, or an inability to correct labor violations, we terminate contracts,” said Amazon spokesperson Leah Seahy.

Drivers received notice last month of the $8.2 million settlement, of which just over $5.5 million is slotted to be paid to drivers as compensation for missing wages. The deal is subject to final approval by a King County Superior Court judge later this spring.

Amazon critics have said contracting for delivery services rather than hiring drivers directly makes it easier for the company to evade responsibility for labor law violations and liabilities like traffic accidents. Amazon itself provided seed funding to Jungle Trux, Progistics, Delivery Force and five other delivery contractors named in the suit as part of an Amazon program to spur the formation of delivery outfits with a sole focus on delivering packages from the company’s warehouses to customers’ doorsteps.

Similar class-action suits against Amazon and its delivery contractors are ongoing in Texas, Ohio, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, Illinois and Maryland, according to Vice, which first reported news of the settlement with Seattle-area drivers.

Meanwhile, California this month fined Amazon and another of its delivery contractors nearly $6.5 million for wage-theft violations affecting 718 workers. The state’s labor commissioner found drivers were forced to work through meal and rest breaks to complete their routes and often worked longer than their scheduled shift without additional pay, resulting in “frequent minimum wage, overtime, meal break, rest period and split-shift violations.”

And last month, Amazon agreed to pay $61.7 million in tips withheld from its Flex gig drivers, who deliver for the company’s Prime Now, Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods services in their personal vehicles, after an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

Katherine Anne Long: 206-464-3229 or kalong@seattletimes.com; .