Wisconsin top court upholds ruling that declared Amazon drivers to be employees 

Amazon Warehouse 061623 APMichaelSohn

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling that stated some Amazon delivery drivers are employees, not independent contractors as the e-commerce company argued.

The court’s unanimous ruling dismissed Amazon’s appeal and called it “improvidently granted.” This means the court is dismissing the case on the grounds it should not have accepted the case.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said the court concluded its review of the case that “will not lead to any further development of the law.”

The state’s high court decision keeps in place the 2023 Wisconsin appeals court ruling against Amazon in which the lower court found drivers in the Amazon Flex program fall under the state’s unemployment insurance system and are eligible for jobless pay if they are laid off, The Associated Press reported.

The Amazon Flex program uses a smartphone application to coordinate package deliveries made by individual drivers who are using their own vehicles. Drivers are able to work around their schedule and pick from available “delivery blocks,” and were considered independent contractors by Amazon.

In 2018, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development conducted an audit of delivery drivers and found all but two of more than 1,000 employees subject to the audit qualified as “employees” of Amazon Logistics — an Amazon subsidiary — for unemployment insurance taxation purposes, according to the court documents.

The department found Amazon Logistics owed more than $205,000 in unemployment insurance taxes, penalties and interest to the state, per court filings.

The Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission upheld the department’s argument the drivers were employees, prompting Amazon Logistics to sue in Waukesha County, Kan., circuit court, the AP reported. A judge ruled the drivers were independent contractors and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals overturned the ruling last year, setting up a battle at the state Supreme Court.

Steve Kelly, a spokesperson for Amazon, said the company is “disappointed” with the high court’s decision.

“We hear from most of the Amazon Flex delivery partners that they love the flexibility of the program, and we’re proud of the work they do on behalf of customers every day,” Kelly wrote to The Hill. “We’re disappointed that the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to weigh in and provide much needed guidance on these matters and are determining our next steps.”

The ruling is a victory for the Badger State’s labor unions and the Department of Workforce, which advocated for Amazon Flex drivers to be recognized as employees.

“This [the ruling] means that Amazon Flex drivers are due additional rights and benefits including access to unemployment compensation,” Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Far too often, especially in the emerging gig economy, big and powerful companies like Amazon use the misclassification of employees as independent contractors to deny working people essential workplace rights like minimum wages, overtime pay, and unemployment insurance. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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