California Senate Passes Reining Bill in Amazon’s Work Model

In the latest sign of growing scrutiny of Amazon’s labor practices, the California State Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would impose limits on production quotas for warehouse workers.

The bill, which passed Senate 26-11, was drafted in part in response to the high injury rates in Amazon warehouses. The law prohibits companies from imposing production quotas that prevent workers from taking state-imposed breaks or using the toilet when needed, or that prevent employers from complying with health and safety laws. Security.

The Assembly, which passed a first draft in May, is expected to approve the Senate measure by the end of the state’s legislative session on Friday.

“In the Amazon warehouse space, what we’re trying to do is this increased use of quotas and discipline based on non-compliance with quotas, with no human factor to deal with a reason why a worker might not make a quota, ”said the MP. Lorena Gonzalez, the author of the bill, said in an interview last week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom had not said before the vote whether he would sign the bill, but his staff were involved in relaxing some provisions that helped pave the way for its passage.

Experts said the bill was innovative in its attempts to regulate warehouse quotas that are tracked by algorithms, like at Amazon, and make them transparent.

“I think one of Amazon’s biggest competitive advantages over its competitors is this ability to monitor their workforce, get workers to work faster, and discipline workers when they fail. not meet quotas, ”said Beth Gutelius, research director at the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It is unprecedented for a bill like this to intervene in the way technology is used in the workplace,” added Dr Gutelius, who focuses on warehousing and logistics.

Business groups have strongly opposed the bill, complaining that it would lead to costly litigation and cripple the entire industry, even though it is primarily aimed at tackling labor practices in one company. .

Amazon did not comment on the bill, but said it tailors performance targets for each employee over time based on their level of experience and that the targets take into account the health and safety of employees. employees. The company pointed out that less than 1% of layoffs are linked to underperformance.

The bill would require Amazon and other warehouse employers to disclose productivity quotas to workers and regulators, and allow workers to sue to eliminate quotas that prevent them from taking breaks and following protocols. of security.

While the impact of the invoice on Amazon’s operations is unclear, limiting the company’s hourly productivity quotas would likely affect its costs more than its ability to continue next day and same day delivery.

“I think it’s all about the money, not what the system is configured to handle,” said Marc Wulfraat, president of supply chain and logistics consultancy MWPVL International. “If you were to say to me, ‘Take the rate down from 350 to 300 per hour’, I would say, ‘OK, we need to add more people to the operation – we need maybe 120 people instead of 100. “

A report from the Strategic Organization Center, a group supported by four unions, shows that Amazon’s critical injury rate nationwide was almost double that of the rest of the warehousing industry last year.

“They were like, ‘Always pivot, never twist,’ whatever you’re supposed to do,” said Nathan Morin, who worked at an Amazon warehouse in California for over three years packing and picking up items before. to leave in December. “But it’s often impossible to keep up with the right body movements while still getting the beat.”

The company is committed to improving worker safety and said it has spent more than $ 300 million this year on new safety measures.

Amazon is under increasing pressure from unions and other groups regarding its working practices. A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board has said it is likely to overturn a failed union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama on the grounds that the company improperly interfered with the vote.

Objections to the election were filed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union, which spearheaded the organizing drive.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which backed the California bill and whose local officials helped derail a tax abatement for Amazon in Indiana and the approval of an Amazon facility in Colorado, has pledged to provide “all the necessary resources” to organize Amazon workers.

“This is a historic victory for workers at Amazon and other large warehouse companies,” said Ron Herrera, a Teamsters official who is president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, in a press release. “These workers have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, while suffering debilitating injuries from dangerous quotas. “

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