California passes bill that could improve conditions for Amazon's warehouse workers

AB-701 will force companies to be transparent about their quotas.

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California's state senate has passed AB-701 — a bill that aims to regulate warehouse productivity quotas. It will require companies to give government agencies detailed descriptions of the targets workers are expected to meet, along with the repercussions of missing them. If it becomes law, it would also prohibit quotas that force workers to skip safety techniques or anything that prevents them from having state-mandated meal or toilet breaks. While AB-701 covers all warehouse owners, its proponents targeted Amazon, in particular.

The bill's author, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, said that she and the bill's other backers are "absolutely targeting the practices of Amazon that are being picked up... by other retailers. Amazon drew flak after workers spoke out about the enormous productivity expectations they have to meet, forcing them to skip breaks to be able to keep up. Further, because they're expected to move as fast as the machines they're working with, repetitive strain injuries are a huge issue.

As Financial Times notes, Amazon's rate of injury is more than double that of the national warehousing industry average, based on figures submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Eric Frumin, director of health and safety for the Strategic Organizing Center, told the publication: "If Amazon complies with the law, workers will now have an unparalleled ability to fight back against abusive workloads."

AB-701 passed despite fierce opposition from business and trade groups. Rachel Michelin, the president of the California Retailers Association, warned that consumers will pay the price if it becomes a law, as it would apparently increase manufacturing, storage and distribution costs. Meanwhile, the bill's supporters believe there's more to be done, especially since they had to remove some provisions to get those on the fence to vote for it. One of the provisions they killed would require Cal/OSHA to create a rule aiming to minimize musculoskeletal injuries among workers.

The bill is pending final approval this week in the Assembly, which is usually just a formality. After that, it's in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who can either sign it into law or veto it.