California could force Amazon to improve conditions for warehouse workers

by Joseph K. Clark

This week, a California bill centered around warehouse labor issues will go to a State Senate vote. Bill AB-701, which passed the State Assembly in May, would force warehouse operators like Amazon to be transparent about the quotas their workers are expected to meet. Should it become law, the legislation could require other warehouse companies to make significant changes.

“The bill would provide that an employee shall not be required to meet a quota that prevents compliance with meal or rest periods, use of bathroom facilities, or occupational health and safety laws,” the proposed legislation reads. The bill also seeks to ban employers from punishing employees who don’t meet quotas that allow them to take breaks or comply with health and safety rules. If workers can’t realistically hit Amazon’s productivity expectations, the company may have to lower quotas in the state.

Several Amazon workers have spoken of preceding or minimizing bathroom breaks to ensure they meet quotas. According to reports, the company’s expectations lead many delivery drivers to and coffee cups instead of taking time to use a restroom. Warehouse workers have shared similar complaints. Amazon closely monitors worker productivity, including how long each employee spends.

An Amazon spokesperson told The New York Times that “terminations for performance issues are rare,” but they didn’t comment directly on the bill.


Last year, Amazon reportedly expected workers to scan 400 items an hour at robot fulfillment centers. According to a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the rate of serious injuries sustained at those warehouses was 50 percent higher than in Amazon warehouses that aren’t automated.

Warehouse injury researcher Edward Flores, faculty director of the Community and Labor Center at the University of California, Merced, told the NYT that repetitive strain injuries are a problem in automated warehouses. Workers are “responding to the speed at which a machine is moving,” which leads to a “higher incidence of repetitive motions and thus repetitive injuries,” Dr. Flores said.

Amazon announced some measures aimed at reducing warehouse injuries in May. The plans included where workers can stretch an hourly “mind and body” prompt.

The company has a long history of controversial labor practices. This year, Amazon shut down a warehouse in Chicago, where workers held walkouts and protested for improved working conditions. Some employees said they were between working 10-hour graveyard shifts at other fulfillment centers or finding a new job. At the time, Amazon denied that was the case.

Workers at the fulfillment center. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union accused Amazon of violating labor laws by interfering with the process. In August, a National Labor Relations Board official recommended that workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama hold another union vote.

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