Technology

California Senate passes landmark bill taking aim at Amazon's labor practices


Peter Endig | AFP | Getty Images

California lawmakers have passed a landmark bill aimed at regulating Amazon‘s use of productivity quotas in warehouses, a labor practice that has become a notorious complaint among its workers.

The State Senate late Wednesday voted 26-11 for the bill, called the Warehouse Workers Protection Act, or AB-701. The bill now heads to the State Assembly for a final vote and will then be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for signing or veto. Newsom hasn’t indicated yet whether or not he supports the bill.

The legislation requires employers to disclose productivity quotas to employees and government agencies. It also prohibits employers from requiring warehouse employees to meet unsafe quotas that prevent them from taking state-mandated meal and rest breaks, or from using the bathroom.

Amazon uses sophisticated algorithms to track productivity rates among its warehouse workers, logging the number of packages they pick, pack and stow each hour. If workers take a break from scanning packages for too long, Amazon’s internal system will log it as a “time off task” and generate a warning, which can later lead to firings.

Amazon’s productivity quotas have been the target of critics who say they lead to on-the-job injuries at warehouses. A study in June by the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions, found that Amazon warehouse workers are injured at higher rates than those at rival companies. The SOC attributed high injury rates among warehouse and delivery workers to Amazon’s “obsession with speed.”

The California legislation would not only increase transparency around productivity quotas, it would also give current and former employees more legal pathways to appeal them.

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Representatives from Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the California legislation.

In June, the company adjusted its system that measures worker productivity, known as “time off task,” to use averages over a longer time period. Amazon warehouse workers have said the metric limits their ability to take bathroom breaks and leads to unfair disciplinary actions.

Business groups have staunchly opposed the bill. Rachel Michelin, head of the California Retailers Association, whose association includes Amazon on its board, told Thomson Reuters that the bill was too broad and would hamstring the entire logistics industry, but that she supports giving more resources to health and safety inspectors.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association argued the legislation would place undue legal burdens and labor restrictions on companies.



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