California will require employers like Amazon to tell their warehouse workers of their quotas and prevent companies from using algorithms that block those employees from taking meal or bathroom breaks, under a first-in-the-nation law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday.
“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.
The law, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, is among the first major steps in the United States to regulate the warehouses of online retailers such as Amazon, which have expanded their physical footprint in California over the last few years.
“Workers aren’t machines. We’re not going to allow a corporation that puts profits over workers’ bodies to set labor standards back decades just for ‘same-day delivery’,” Gonzalez said in a statement.
Amazon has drawn scrutiny and criticism for its labor practices, with its warehouses seeing high worker injury rates according to an investigation by Reveal. The news site reported that the Amazon fulfillment center in Sacramento had one of the worst injury rates among the company’s U.S. warehouses in 2018, with 385 incidents reported.
Workers and experts have attributed the rates to the company’s high quotas for their workers. As of 2019, workers at the Sacramento facility said employees were expected to lift and scan 300 items an hour. The company has defended its practices, saying it has spent billions of dollars enhancing safety at its warehouses.
Under the law, companies will have to tell warehouse employees their quota within 30 days of hiring, as well as any discipline that they may face from failing to meet the target. Companies are prevented from setting quotas so high that workers would be prevented from taking meal, rest or bathroom breaks or from complying with health and safety laws.
Workers who believe their quotas are unsafe can request 90 days of their personal work speed metrics and can sue employers to stop them from imposing the requirement.
If a particular worksite or a company has an annual injury rate that’s at least 1.5 times higher than the industry’s average, the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health or the Division of Workers’ Compensation must notify the Labor Commissioner’s Office, who can determine whether it will investigate the facility or the employer.
Business advocates, including the California Chamber of Commerce, opposed the bill.
“We are disappointed Governor Newsom signed AB 701, which will exacerbate our current supply chain issues, increase the cost of living for all Californians and eliminate good-paying jobs,” Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association and chair of the No on AB 701 Coalition, said in a statement.
“With California’s ports facing record backlogs of ships waiting off the coast and inflation spiking to the fastest pace in 13 years, AB 701 will make matters worse for everyone – creating more back-ordered goods and higher prices for everything from clothes, diapers and food to auto parts, toys and pet supplies.
CalChamber at one point put the bill on its “job killer” list. It softened its stance once the law was amended in several ways, such as limiting when employees can sue their employers under the bill.
Warehouse workers and advocates, who cheered Newsom’s signature, spent months pushing for the bill. They held numerous events at the Capitol, where they created a mock-up of a warehouse to illustrate the fast pace of work.
“Such sensible measures will make the warehouse sector more sustainable and protect the hundreds of thousands of Californians who work in warehouses,” Sheheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, said in a statement.
In an August press conference pushing for the bill’s passage, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, said his son worked at an Amazon warehouse.
“He saw all the bad things about working in a factory you can see,” Jones-Sawyer said. “I am a father who can actually do something about it.”
The law goes into effect Jan. 1.