Last week, California became the first state to take action on unethical productivity practices in mega-retailer warehouses. The newly-passed law, AB 701, bars large retailers like Amazon from firing warehouse workers for missing quotas. The new law aims to ensure that productivity goals do not interfere with bathroom and rest breaks in warehouses.
The law bans large companies from disciplining employees for following health and safety laws and allows employees to sue to suspend unsafe quotas or reverse retaliation. Although motivated by frequent reports of employee mistreatment in Amazon facilities, the law applies to all warehouse distribution centers.
The law was prompted by an Amazon algorithm that allegedly tracks employees’ activities and determines that anything not directly related to moving packages is “off task.” The law, authored by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a lawyer, and former labor leader, gives workers the right to request 90 days’ worth of documentation of how their work speed meets or fails quotas. Any discipline which led to unsafe working conditions during this 90-day period can be used to enact the worker rights laid out by the new law.
Additionally, California workplace regulators will have to investigate warehouses with annual employee injury rates more than 1.5 times higher than the warehousing industry’s average. The measure is supported by data from the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and the Strategic Organizing Center which shows that warehouse workers are sacrificing their health and safety for the sake of productivity.
In a world where online shopping and distribution monopolizes industries, warehouse workers facilitating these exchanges are often forgotten about in the race to increase production and delivery speeds. This new measure puts stronger protections in place for some of the 21st century’s most vulnerable workers and will hopefully encourage other states to follow suit.