Amid public criticism against Amazon and other major warehouse operators for encouraging unsafe or unethical labor practices, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Sept. 22 aimed to boost protections for workers.
Newsom signed AB 701, authored by assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), which establishes transparency measures for companies to disclose warehouse production quotas to their workers and state protection agencies, and it prohibits the use of algorithms that "disrupt basic worker rights" such as rest periods, bathroom breaks or compliance with health and safety laws. The bill also states that workers can't be fired or retaliated against for failing to meet an unsafe quota, and allows them to sue their employer not just for damages, but to reverse their termination.
“We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people," Gov. Newsom said in a news release. "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. I’m proud to sign this legislation giving them the dignity, respect and safety they deserve and advancing California’s leadership at the forefront of workplace safety.”
The bill states that if an employer's annual employee injury rate is at least 1.5 times above that of the overall warehousing industry, California's OSHA department is required to report that warehouse operator to the state's labor commissioner, who will determine whether an investigation is necessary. The bill also allows the California Labor Commissioner to issue citations and have access to worker's compensation data to see which facilities have high rates of injury that are likely due to using unsafe quotas.
“Amazon’s business model relies on enforcing inhumane work speeds that are injuring and churning through workers at a faster rate than we’ve ever seen," Gonzalez said in a press release titled. "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.'
“This bill is simply about giving workers some basic dignity back and empowering them to keep themselves safe. As workers are increasingly surveilled on the job and supervised by algorithms, AB 701 is just the beginning of our work to regulate dangerous quotas and keep employers that have operated above the law in check.”