New California Law Passes: Amazon Warehouse Workers Can Get Some Power : NPR

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imageEnlarge this image A man works at a conveyor belt at the 855,000-square-foot Amazon warehouse in New York in 2019.Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

A man works at a conveyor belt at the 855,000-square-foot Amazon warehouse in New York in 2019.

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images California lawmakers have passed a first-of-its-kind legislation that would give Amazon and other warehouse workers new power to fight speed quotas, which critics say have forced workers to skip bathroom breaks and skirt safety measures.

The bill, if signed by the governor, could also make public more comprehensive details about the demands Amazon makes of its warehouse staff, specifically about the impact of speed quotas on the workers’ health.

“It’s the first step in changing working conditions in the warehouse,” said Veena Dubal, an expert on labor law and technology at the University of California, Hastings, who supports the legislation.

Warehouses employ a ballooning workforce, largely thanks to Amazon, now the second-largest private employer in the U.S.with over 950,000 workers.Tracked by algorithms, Amazon warehouse staff rush to pack and ship a never-ending stream of shopping orders to be delivered in a matter of hours.

California’s Assembly Bill 701 asserts that productivity demands cannot come at the expense of health and safety, for example by pushing workers to skirt safety techniques or skip rest breaks they’re entitled to.If that happens, the bill would give current and former workers more legal pathways to appeal them.

The bill’s second key theme is transparency, giving workers, their representatives and government officials more access to detailed records of quotas and workers’ actual rates.

The legislation, opposed by retail and business groups, will soon head to Gov.Gavin Newsom, who has not said whether he supports it.Newsom’s office did not respond to NPR’s inquiry.

Amazon has drawn scrutiny for its workers’ injury rates Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Yesenia Barrera says that’s how it felt when she worked at an Amazon warehouse in Southern California.

For ten hours a day, she would bend, twist, reach, scan, unwrap, rewrap — hoping to hit 200 items an hour.

“I rarely ever saw anyone leave to use the restroom unless they talked to someone, like ‘Do you mind scanning this item every three minutes just so my time off task doesn’t accumulate? Cover for me,'” said Barrera, now an organizer with the Warehouse Worker Resource Center.

Amazon carefully watches “time off task,” which the company says is to monitor for “issues with the tools that people use,” but also to identify underperforming workers.Too much time off task after a while and the algorithm can flag you, though Amazon says firings over performance are rare, less than 1% for operations employees.

Still, many workers, such as Barrera, have argued that the pace inside Amazon warehouses can be unhealthy and unsustainable.Investigations by news organizations and by the labor-backed Strategic Organizing Center have found that the rate of serious injuries at Amazon warehouses has been nearly double the industry average.

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez says that’s what prompted her to write AB 701, which supporters hope could pave the way for other states to follow.

Technology California Voters Give Uber, Lyft A Win But Some Drivers Aren’t So Sure “We’re absolutely targeting the practices of Amazon that are being picked up, quite frankly, by other retailers,” says Gonzalez, who previously spearheaded California’s high-profile law that sought to make it harder for gig companies like Uber to hire workers as contractors.

Repetitive exertion raises risks of injury.

For a while, Amazon said its higher injury rates were because it got more diligent about reporting than its rivals.This year,.

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