State Watch

California legislature approves regulations for Amazon warehouses


The California Senate voted Wednesday to approve first-of-its-kind legislation that would regulate workplace performance metrics in warehouse settings after complaints from Amazon workers about compromised health as well as safety procedures.

The bill, which has become one of the most fiercely contentious items on the agenda in Sacramento this year, would require companies that employ substantial numbers of warehouse employees to disclose the productivity requirements it sets for workers. It would allow employees to challenge quotas that they allege prevent them from taking bathroom breaks or other time to rest during the workday.

The measure does not specifically mention Amazon, though both supporters and opponents acknowledge the retail behemoth is the prime target for the new regulations. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D), the bill’s lead author, said she drafted the legislation after Amazon workers came to her complaining of safety violations.

Supporters of the legislation said it became necessary because workers in warehouses experience injuries at much higher rates than workers in other settings — and workers in Amazon warehouses have injury rates about twice as high as workers in other warehouses.

“Our bill empowers workers to be able to change their working conditions if it doesn’t allow them to make basic health and safety conditions,” Gonzalez told The Hill in an interview. “We’re trying to make sure that the rules are clear. You can’t have a production quota that violates health and safety conditions.”

The California Chamber of Congress made their opposition to the bill a top priority earlier this year, though they dropped opposition after Gonzalez and her allies made changes to the bill.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the bill’s passage Wednesday.

“AB 701 impacts distribution centers across industries and 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.”

The measure faces a final vote in the state Assembly, where members will have to concur with changes made on the Senate side. But that vote is little more than a formality in a chamber where legislators passed the initial measure by a wide margin, and the final bill is likely to end up on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) desk within days.

Newsom has not said whether he will sign the bill once it clears its final legislative hurdle.

The bill would allow warehouse workers to pursue a court injunction against illegal labor practices, giving them the potential to win their jobs back if they are fired. Workers would have access to current productivity measures as well as three months of back data on their performance.

Gonzalez said other companies are likely to fall into the category of regulated warehouses as the race to provide the fastest retail-at-home experience heats up. Walmart and other similar companies that are vying with Amazon are among those likely to be overseen.

“We’re trying to tackle it in a way that ensures there’s a human factor in what has become managing by algorithm,” Gonzalez said. 

Tags Amazon California Gavin Newsom Jeff Bezos Union

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