A bill to protect California warehouse workers from allegations of abusive quota systems has landed on the governor’s desk.
Assembly Bill 701, recently approved by the Assembly and Senate, was drafted by the Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. If a law were signed, it would be the first law in the country to require companies to disclose the productivity requirements and work speed metrics they set for employees.
It would prevent workers from being fired for failing to meet a quota affecting their ability to use the toilet or take rest, and it would discourage employers from disciplining warehouse workers for being “off duty”, if they follow the health and safety laws.
Amazon in the crosshairs
Amazon doesn’t specifically name the measure, but proponents and opponents of the bill say the Seattle-based e-commerce giant is clearly the main target of the regulations.
“Amazon urges workers to risk their bodies for next-day delivery while they cannot even use the bathroom without fear of retaliation,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “We cannot allow companies to get rich from injuries to their workforce.”
Despite repeated attempts, Amazon representatives could not be reached for comment.
In a February 2020 interview with The Guardian, an Amazon spokesperson said, “Like most companies, we have performance expectations for each Amazon and measure actual performance against those expectations.”
The bill would prohibit workers from being fired for failing to meet a quota that would affect their ability to use the bathroom or rest, and it would discourage employers from disciplining warehouse workers for being “off duty.” “Are if they adhere to health and safety laws. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)
The California Retailers Association rejects AB 701, saying it will affect too many businesses if the move is clearly targeted at Amazon.
“If you throw out such a huge network to pursue a company, it will have unintended consequences,” said Association President Rachel Michelin. “We already have Cal / OSHA, which has the authority to enforce workplace safety. If the regulations need more teeth, we’ll start with them instead of creating a whole new set of laws. “
Michelin said the bill would impact distribution centers in multiple industries and increase the cost of living for Californians, destroy well-paid jobs and damage the region’s fragile supply chain.
Fifty organizations, from retailers and food manufacturers to auto parts makers and ethnic chambers of commerce, are against AB 701. They are united through noonab701.org.
The surge in e-commerce shopping has set a rapid pace in warehouses in Southern California, a trend exacerbated by pandemic-wary consumers who are reluctant to shop in brick and mortar stores.
The flow of consumer goods arriving from Asia via the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has also fueled inventory growth – particularly in the Inland Empire. Last year, the two-county region completed 52 million square feet of space Property Transactions that, according to CBRE, have the highest number of transactions ever recorded.
Data from Digital Commerce 360 shows that consumers spent $ 791.70 billion online at U.S. retailers in 2020, up 32.4% from $ 598.02 billion the previous year. Ecommerce spending accounted for nearly 20% of total retail sales last year, compared to 15.8% in 2019.
A gloomy picture
A recent study by the Ontario Warehouse Worker Resource Center and Human Impact Partners paints a bleak picture of working conditions in Amazon warehouses.
“Workers reported that Amazon’s inflated quotas make it impossible to complete the job and make the rate safe,” the report said. “The majority of the employees surveyed stated that they experienced a constant state of stress in order to keep up.”
One warehouse worker in the study claims she needs to scan at least 200 items per hour, regardless of the size of the item, in order to “make prices” or maintain the expected pace of product movements.
If she stops scanning for more than six minutes – time required, for example, to pack and scan a larger item – the Amazon scanning device issues an alarm indicating that she has spent too much “free time”.
If workers exceed Amazon’s working hours limit or fail to meet the tariff, they allegedly need to be reviewed, attributed, or terminated, the report said.
An information sheet attached to the report shows that Amazon warehouse workers are allowed only six minutes of “free time” per day in addition to their 30-minute lunch break. Employees say the nearest toilet is often more than six minutes from their place of work in the company’s huge warehouses.
“Amazon’s work rates determine a dangerous pace of work that leads to injuries,” the report said. “Research shows that high pace of work is linked to a range of health effects, including neck and shoulder pain, muscle or joint problems, and back problems.”
67 percent of Amazon employees surveyed for the study reported injuries from their work at Amazon, and 75 percent said their required work rate was either “always” or “often” too high to work at a safe pace.
Gonzalez said AB 701 will allow workers to have a voice in their workplace “even if their manager is an algorithm”.
According to AB 701, warehouse workers who believe a quota is unsafe are entitled to 90 days of their personal work speed metrics and quota descriptions to better document violations.
If an employee is disciplined within 90 days of requesting the data or complaining to their employer or any government agency about an unsafe rate, AB 701 will create a presumption that it was retaliatory action.