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California lawmakers passed landmark law 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 voted 26:11 late Wednesday in favor of the bill known as the Warehouse Workers Protection Act or AB-701. The bill will now go to the State Assembly for final vote and will then be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature or veto. Newsom has yet to say whether it supports the law or not.
Legislation requires employers to disclose productivity rates to workers and government agencies. It also prohibits employers from requiring warehouse workers to adhere to unsafe quotas that prevent them from taking government-mandated food and rest breaks or using the toilet.
Amazon uses sophisticated algorithms to track the productivity rates of its warehouse workers and keeps track of the number of packages they pick, pack, and stow every hour. If workers take too long breaks while scanning packages, Amazon’s internal system logs this as a “release task” and generates a warning that can later lead to layoffs.
Amazon’s productivity rates have been the target of critics who say they lead to warehouse accidents at work. A study conducted in June by the Strategic Organizing Center, a trade union alliance, found warehouse workers at Amazon were injured more often than at competing companies. The SOC attributed the high injury rates among warehouse and delivery workers to Amazon’s “obsession with speed”.
California legislation would not only increase transparency about productivity rates, it would also give current and former employees more legal opportunities to challenge them.
Amazon officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on California law.
In June, the company adjusted its employee productivity measurement system, known as a “Leisure Task,” to use averages over time. Amazon warehouse workers have said the metric will limit their ability to take toilet breaks and result in unfair disciplinary action.
Groups of companies have decidedly against the law. Rachel Michelin, director of the California Retailers Association, of which Amazon is a member, told Thomson Reuters that the bill was too broad and would affect the entire logistics industry, but that she is helping to give health and safety inspectors more resources .
The Retail Industry Leaders Association argued the legislation placed undue legal burdens and labor restrictions on businesses.