New California Law Targets Amazon Warehouse Production Quotas

AB 701, which is the first legislation of its kind in the country, is meant to protect workers from being penalized for taking breaks or using the bathroom.
The new law applies to all large warehouses in California, but lawmakers crafted it with Amazon in mind.
The new law applies to all large warehouses in California, but lawmakers crafted it with Amazon in mind.
via Associated Press

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill into law Wednesday taking direct aim at the production quotas enforced on Amazon warehouse workers.

The bill, known as AB 701, requires companies to disclose their quotas to employees and forbids them from imposing rates that prevent workers from taking breaks or using the bathroom. It is the first legislation of its kind in the country.

The new requirements apply to all large warehouses in the state, but legislators have made clear which employer they had in mind when crafting the bill, which goes into effect in January.

“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,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement Wednesday. “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.’”

Newsom said in a statement that he was signing the bill into law to give warehouse workers “the dignity, respect and safety they deserve.”

An Amazon spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

Amazon employs hundreds of thousands of workers in its fulfillment centers around the country. Many of them have complained for years about the pressures to “make rate” as they pick, pack and ship out orders. Amazon administers the quotas by algorithm and fires workers who fail to meet them.

“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.”

- California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez

Some Amazon workers say the time squeeze can make them reluctant to take a break or venture to the bathroom in the cavernous facilities since they get dinged for “time off task” ― that is, time spent not doing the job. The new law would forbid a company from penalizing a worker for doing so, and protect workers who were retaliated against.

Retailers in California created a coalition to try to stop AB 701 from becoming law, saying it would raise costs on employers and hurt employment. Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, said in a statement Wednesday that “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.”

Backers of the legislation argued it was important for worker safety. A data analysis by the union-backed Strategic Organizing Center found that injury rates were nearly 80% higher in Amazon warehouses compared to the warehousing industry in general last year.

Under the law, a warehouse worker who believes the work rate may be unsafe can request three months’ worth of their performance metrics and details on the production quotas. If a worker gets fired after such a request, the law provides them the chance to file for injunctive relief so they can be reinstated.