Thousands of drivers are filing arbitration claims against Amazon for unpaid wages and other losses

NEW YORK — Thousands of delivery drivers filed legal claims against Amazon On Tuesday, the company's claim that it classified them as independent contractors rather than employees led to unpaid wages and other financial losses.

Two law firms spearheading the action say 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, created in 2015, prescribes drivers deliver packages with their own cars and a special app.

The company presents the work as a flexible, part-time opportunity that allows people to earn extra income during the hours of their choosing. Most drivers earn $18-25 per hour, according to Amazon, but how much they get paid can depend on other factors, such as their location and how long it takes to complete deliveries.

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

That 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 complete deliveries, the lawyers said. It would also allow Flex drivers to receive overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week and receive reimbursement for work-related costs such as gas costs and vehicle wear and tear.

Gasoline and other vehicle costs are a “huge expense for our customers,” Tindall said during an interview. He also said a customer represented in the claims worked seven days a week making deliveries for Amazon during a holiday period and was never paid overtime.

In a prepared statement, Amazon spokesperson Branden Baribeau touted 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 appreciate the flexibility of the program, and we are proud of the work they do for customers every day,” Baribeau said.

Tindall and Sellers say they have so far succeeded in seven of the eight arbitration claims against Amazon they have taken to court. The drivers they represented in those cases received an average of $9,000 in damages.

Amazon's business model for its driven workforce – made up of independent contractors and third party companies allowing the company to avoid this unionization – faces criticism and challenges from various quarters.

A bipartisan group of more than 30 U.S. senators sent Amazon CEO Andy Jassy a letter last week asking for more information about the company's relationship with the thousands of independent companies that make millions of deliveries every day as part of Amazon's Delivery Service Partners Program.

In March the Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling that considers Flex drivers employees — a decision that allows them to be part of the state's unemployment insurance system and entitled to unemployment benefits if they are fired.

The Teamsters unionwhich is trying to organize Amazon's drivers also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last year, challenging the way the company classifies some of its drivers.

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This version corrects the spelling of Amazon spokesperson Branden Baribeau's first name.

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