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A law that seeks to clamp down on Amazon’s use of productivity quotas has been passed by California’s state senate, paving the way for the first regulation of its kind in the US.
Assembly Bill 701 is aimed at all companies using warehouse labour, but legislators have targeted Amazon in particular, highlighting the company’s outsized injury rate when compared to similar workplaces.
The law will demand all warehouse operators that use quotas to provide detailed descriptions of any targets that workers are expected to meet — as well as the repercussions for missing them. These quotas will have to be provided to employees and government agencies.
The law would prohibit quotas that required employees to skip or disrupt their mandated meal or toilet breaks. In the event of disciplinary action, employees can request up to 90 days of productivity history in order to challenge the decision.
The bill was passed by California’s lower house in May and by its Senate on Wednesday by 26 votes to 11.
Pending final approval this week by the assembly, which is expected to be a formality, it will then be sent to the desk of governor Gavin Newsom for ratification. He has not yet indicated whether or not he supports the bill.
AB 701’s successful passage through the Senate came despite fierce opposition from dozens of trade groups. A “No on AB 701” coalition had garnered 50 members, organisers said, from industries including manufacturing, agriculture and car parts.
“AB 701 is an overly broad bill that will increase the cost of living for all Californians, kill good-paying jobs and damage our fragile supply chain,” said Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association.
“Everything we buy and use moves through the manufacturing, storage, and distribution process. Whether it’s our food moving from the farm to fork or clothes from the thread to our closet, we will all pay the price for AB 701. California families can’t afford AB 701,” she added.
But supporters see the bill as breaking new ground in ensuring better safety records in the warehouses that feed consumers’ insatiable appetite for rapid delivery.
According to figures submitted to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Amazon’s rate of injury was more than double that of the national warehousing industry average.
“Based on its own records, Amazon’s safety programme is a miserable failure,” said Eric Frumin, director of health and safety for the Strategic Organizing Center, a group backed by four labour unions.
In 2020, the group said, for every 100 Amazon workers there were almost six “serious injuries” that required time off work or moving to lighter duties.
“If Amazon complies with the law,” Frumin added, “workers will now have an unparalleled ability to fight back against abusive workloads. The implications are huge for warehouse workers throughout California, but also warehouse workers and logistics workers throughout the country, including drivers.”
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment following Wednesday’s vote.
Previously it had said several factors went into a decision to fire an employee, of which productivity quotas informed a small part.
In May, occupational health investigators said it had discovered “serious” safety violations at a facility in Dupont, Washington state — about 50 miles from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.
“Pressure is put on workers to maintain that pace without adequate recovery time,” the inspectors’ report read, saying there was a “direct connection” between Amazon’s monitoring of its workforce and subsequent musculoskeletal disorders.
The company was fined $7,000.