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California is the 1st State to Set Quota Limits for Retailers Like Amazon

By Thomas Lee
Amazon workers pack orders at an Amazon fulfillment center on Jan. 20, 2015, in Tracy, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law where California became the first state to bar mega-retailers from firing warehouse workers for missing quotas that interfere with bathroom and rest breaks.

The measure bars online retail giants like Amazon, from disciplining workers for following health and safety laws and allows employees to sue to suspend unsafe quotas or reverse retaliation. This is applicable to all distribution centers.

"We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people," Newson said in a news release.

Large warehouse employers have 30 days to disclose quotas to employees. Employees who think their quotas lead to unsafe behavior can ask for 90 days' worth of documentation showing how their work speed meets or fails the quota. Any discipline regarding the unsafe quota, including when an employee complains to the company or state agency, is presumed to be retaliation if within the 90 days.

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a lawyer and former labor leader, authored the law, AB 701. She accused Amazon of disciplining warehouse workers using "an algorithm" that tracks employees' activities and determines anything that does not directly relate to moving packages as "off-task." Gonzalez asserts that Amazon employees are far more likely to suffer injuries than those working in other warehouses through cited reports from several labor advocacy groups including the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and the Strategic Organizing Center.

"Amazon is pushing workers to risk their bodies for next-day delivery, while they can't so much as use the restroom without fearing retaliation," said Gonzalez, when the Legislature passed her bill.

Under the bill, California's workplace regulators would have to consider investigating if a worksite or employer has an annual employee injury rate at least 1.5 times higher than the average warehousing industry's annual injury rate. Former warehouse worker, Yesenia Barrera, who is now an organizer with the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, recalled the constant pressure to perform and "carrying, bending, reaching, twisting and packing items from 30-60 pounds for hours a day."

But 27 business organizations led by the California Retailers Association, objected that California is home to thousands of warehouse distribution centers that "provide quality jobs to hundreds of thousands of working-class Californians" and cited U.S. Department of Labor data that wages in the transportation and warehousing sector have risen more than 17% in the past year.

Furthermore, Amazon employees more than 150,000 Californians including dozens of "fulfillment centers."

They argue that the legislation is "both burdensome and needlessly overbroad," arguing that workers are protected by existing occupational safety standards. In addition, Rachel Michelin, California Retailers Association President, said the measure "will exacerbate our current supply chain issues, increase the cost of living for all Californians and eliminate good-paying jobs." Moreover, "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 backordered goods and higher prices for everything from clothes, diapers, and food to auto parts, toys, and pet supplies."

According to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which co-sponsored the bill, warehouse workers in California are disproportionate: 54% Latino and 9.5% Black. These groups were more likely to suffer during the pandemic as consumers' reliance on online shopping increased.

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