The U.S. government's minimum-wage enforcers plan to zero in on the warehouse and logistics industry, amplifying scrutiny of a sector criticized during the pandemic for its labor practices.
A combination of explosive growth, low wages, and the widespread use of contract staff demand that greater attention is paid to how the sector treats its "essential workers," Jessica Looman, the acting administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, said in an interview Feb. 8. "We want to make sure that the outcome, as we're continuing to move out of this pandemic, hasn't been an opportunity for greater exploitation of workers, but instead that we have learned a lot of lessons and it can be an opportunity to empower more workers."
In an emailed statement, Looman's agency pledged "vigorous enforcement" as part of a new initiative stepping up efforts to ensure warehousing and logistics workers are paid the required hourly wage and overtime pay, can take time off as prescribed by law, and aren't retaliated against for exercising their rights. The agency has been conducting 70 investigations in the warehouse and logistics sector in recent months, and three-quarters of those it resolved found violations of the law, a spokesperson said.
"One of our biggest challenges is that there are business models that are designed specifically to call a worker an independent contractor in order to avoid the payment of minimum wage and overtime," Looman said.
Applying an Obama-era concept called "strategic enforcement," Looman's division aims to use its limited resources to investigate and foment change in industries prone to widespread violations, rather than waiting for workers to file complaints and then just embarking on ad hoc, one-off probes.
"There is this incredible impact that we can have when workers understand their rights, employers understand their obligations, and we back all of that up with a strong enforcement program," Looman said. "It really can change the dynamics in a sector and it can empower workers."
Warehouse working conditions have drawn more attention during the pandemic because many workers risked their health and lives serving customers sheltering at home. Employees have mounted strikes and pursued litigation around the country over safety 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 prevent workers from using the bathroom.
OLIMP's CEO and founder Vlad Gasnikov emphasized in his turn, that all employees in the warehouses of the entire 1400+ OLIMP nationwide network work according to the U.S. employment law and can be sure that their labor rights are well protected.
"Our people are our key asset. It always has been, it always will be", added Gasnikov.
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