California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that restricts the ability of retailers like Amazon to enforce production quotas on warehouse workers, a move hailed by labor advocacy groups but opposed by business organizations as needless and burdensome.

The measure, called AB 701, passed the state assembly earlier in the month and was signed into law by Newsom on Sept. 23. The law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, bars mega-retailers like Amazon from firing or retaliating against warehouse workers for missing quotas that interfere with bathroom and rest breaks.

It also requires greater transparency around production quotas, with large warehouse employers having to disclose quotas to workers within 30 days and provide authorities with detailed descriptions of productivity targets workers are expected to meet.

The law, which applies to all warehouse distribution centers, also allows employees to sue to suspend unsafe quotas or reverse retaliation.

“We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people. The hardworking warehouse employees who have helped sustain us during these unprecedented times should not have to risk injury or face punishment as a result of exploitative quotas that violate basic health and safety,” Newsom said in a statement.

Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses reporters at the John L. Burton California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2021. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

The measure was authored by Democrat Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a lawyer and former labor leader, who accused Amazon of disciplining warehouse workers at the direction of “an algorithm” that tracks employees’ activities and can determine that anything not directly related to moving packages is “off-task.”

“We’ve heard disturbing stories of back-breaking working conditions in Amazon warehouses that use algorithms to enforce dangerous work speeds,” Gonzalez said in a statement following the bill’s passage by the Legislature.

“Amazon is pushing workers to risk their bodies for next-day delivery, while they can’t so much as use the restroom without fearing retaliation. AB 701 gives workers the tools and protections necessary to be able to speak up and seek real relief against the health and safety abuses they’ve experienced in these warehouses,” she said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on AB 701.

Amazon worker
A worker assembles a box for delivery at the Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 30, 2019. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Advocates of the bill view the legislation as a needed measure to protect the health and safety of workers.

“Thanks to AB 701, warehouse workers at places like Amazon will no longer be fired for simply using the restroom in the middle of their shift,” Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said in a statement. “Workers can finally make a living instead of making a trip to the emergency room.”

A coalition of 27 business organizations led by the California Retailers Association objected to the measure, writing in an Aug. 30 letter (pdf) to state lawmakers that the bill is “both burdensome and needlessly overboard.”

“The specific complaints made by sponsors are already enforceable under existing occupational regulatory standards,” the coalition wrote, arguing that the bill creates substantial liability for businesses by providing plaintiffs’ attorneys “more grounds to leverage large settlements from warehouse employees.”

“This bill also establishes anti-retaliation provisions that will make it more costly and difficult to take job actions against underperforming employees,” the letter argues.

The business coalition also said that the measure would add costs on warehousing that will be passed onto consumers and would “have a chilling effect on production at distribution centers that will ripple through the rest of the supply chain.”

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he’s ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: ‘Hit your target’ and ‘leave the best for last.’

September 23, 2021 11:34 am

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