SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 701 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) into law, which creates the nation’s first transparency requirements and worker protections against abusive warehouse production quotas.
The bill requires large warehouse distribution centers to disclose production quotas and work speed metrics to employees and state enforcement agencies, and prohibits employers from enforcing unsafe production quotas that prevent warehouse employees from using the bathroom, taking rest breaks, or complying with health and safety laws.
“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. 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’,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said. “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.”
Amazon has been at the forefront of pushing the limits of on-demand delivery, and consequently, is leading the steep decline in modern warehouse working conditions. Warehousing operators have been able to take advantage of a gap in federal and state labor laws, which are silent on safe production quotas and work speeds. Amazon workers have their productivity expectations automatically set and adjusted by an algorithm that can’t take into consideration the toll of back-breaking work speeds on the human body, then face discipline and termination – often without a human supervisor ever being involved – by those very algorithms if they accrue too much “time-off task” or do not meet the increasing productivity rates. Minutes between scanning packages where an algorithm detects a worker is “off-task” can result in automatic discipline and even termination, forcing many workers to neglect basic needs like using the bathroom or skip safety protocols.
According to recent data on warehousing injuries during the pandemic, conditions have worsened with Amazon warehouse workers experiencing serious injuries at a rate nearly 80 percent higher than the serious injury rate for all other employers in the warehousing industry in 2020.
Beginning January 1, 2022, large warehouse employers have 30 days to disclose production quotas to their workers. The new law prohibits warehouse workers from being fired for failing to meet a quota that interfered with their ability to use the bathroom or take rest breaks, and explicitly bars employers from disciplining workers for being “off-task” when they are complying with health and safety laws.
Under AB 701, workers who believe that a quota is unsafe are entitled to 90 days of their personal work speed metrics and descriptions of quotas, to better track and document violations. If a worker is disciplined within 90 days of requesting this data or complaining to their employer or a state agency about an unsafe quota, AB 701 creates a presumption that the action was retaliatory, taking the onus off of the worker to demonstrate the reason they were written up. AB 701 empowers workers and authorizes the Labor Commissioner to enforce their rights under the bill with the ability to pursue injunctive relief to suspend an unsafe quota or reverse a retaliatory actions against workers for not meeting unsafe quotas – directly addressing the root of the problem.
AB 701 also provides state enforcement agencies with tools to investigate algorithm-enforced quota systems and equips the state with the data necessary to tackle these emerging problems as warehousing work changes in the future.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez represents California’s 80th Assembly District, located in southern San Diego County, including the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, and National City. She serves as Chair of the Assembly Committee on Appropriations and Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Latina Inequities. For more information on Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, visit http://asm.ca.gov/gonzalez