California governor signs warehouse productivity quota bill into law

It could improve warehouse workers' conditions after it takes effect on January 1st.

MediaNews Group/The Riverside Press-Enterprise via Getty Images via Getty Images

California governor Gavin Newsom has signed AB-701, the bill that aims to regulate warehouse productivity quotas, into law. As The Washington Post notes, that makes California the first state to put a restriction on productivity quotas in warehouses like Amazon's, and it could lead to better conditions for workers. After the law takes effect on January 1st, 2022, companies will be required to have transparency around productivity quotas. They have to disclose those quotas to their workers and provide authorities with a detailed description of the targets workers are expected to meet.

In addition, it will prohibit the use of algorithms that prevent workers from being able to take state-mandated meal and bathroom breaks or force them to do things that aren't in compliance with health and safety laws. Workers can't be fired or retaliated against for failing to meet unsafe quotas, as well. In his office's announcement, Gov. Newson said in a statement:

"We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people. The hardworking warehouse employees who have helped sustain us during these unprecedented times should not have to risk injury or face punishment as a result of exploitative quotas that violate basic health and safety. I'm proud to sign this legislation giving them the dignity, respect and safety they deserve and advancing California's leadership at the forefront of workplace safety."

The bill's proponents had Amazon in mind when they wrote it up. Amazon's warehouse workers previously spoke out about having to urinate in bottles just so they wouldn't have to be disciplined for "idle time." The e-commerce giant also has a massive injury rate, because workers are expected to be able to keep up with the machines they're working with.

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill's author, said in a statement:

"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 founder Jeff Bezos, however, previously denied that the company has unreasonable productivity quotas. In a letter to shareholders back in April, he said that employees are "are able to take informal breaks throughout their shifts" and that the company doesn't set "unreasonable performance goals." He added: "We set achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data."