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California Assembly Bill 701 To Hold Amazon Accountable for Safe Workplace

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AB701, which is expected to reach the Senate in the next week or so, requires Amazon and other employers to disclose workplace quotas and controls the ability to penalize workers for “time off-task.”

Santa Clara, CAAssembly Bill 701 is expected to reach California lawmakers any day now. Bill 701 will curtail Amazon’s algorithm-led and unfavorable warehouse work conditions by requiring warehouses to disclose quotas and work speed metrics to employees and government agencies. The bill will also put an end to “time off task” penalties that affect health and safety, including bathroom use, and prohibit retaliation against workers who complain.

To say Assembly Bill 701 is important is an understatement. Experts have said that California’s workplace laws often influence the federal government and other states, and this bill could have a huge impact on the future of work. “In the U.S., we are at an inflection point on the question of how technologies are used in workplaces and what rights workers have to data collected about them,” said Beth Gutelius, research director at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development, and reported by the Los Angeles Times. “Warehouses are where the dark sides of work surveillance are being revealed.”

Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who penned AB701, said that “Amazon has set the pace, creating a market for next-day delivery of consumer goods…We see Walmart and other large warehouses following suit. We need to make sure our laws catch up with that.”

Amazon Injury Rate

Because of the increased demand for online shopping and a surge in e-commerce fueled by the pandemic, giant corporations like Walmart and Amazon often require their workers to perform at unsafe rates that can result in debilitating injuries.

Aptly titled “Work Shouldn’t Hurt”, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (LaFed) is calling on Californians to sign their petition and tell legislators to pass AB701 -- the Warehouse Workers Protection Act – and protect warehouse workers throughout California who perform dangerous and back-breaking work. According to LaFed, Amazon warehouse workers are injured more frequently than coal miners, lumberjacks, trash collectors, and police officers, despite Jeff Bezos in one last letter to Amazon shareholders that the corporation is “Earth’s most customer-centric company”. Bezos promised that Amazon would be “Earth’s best employer and Earth’s safest place to work.” In his 2020 letter to shareholders, Bezos wrote that Amazon “will invest more than $300 million in safety projects this year”.

And it’s getting worse: injury rates in Amazon warehouses increased by 33% between 2016 and 2019. 

When the legislation for the bill was analyzed, the Senate Judiciary Committee cited studies showing Amazon’s injury rate to be nearly twice that of the warehouse industry generally. One study  compared Amazon’s 2020 injury rate (6.5 injuries for every 100 workers) to that of Walmart (three injuries).

Amazon’s own records reveal that its workers in 2018 were injured on the job at double the average rate of the general warehousing industry and triple the average rate across all private employers. With 950,000 U.S. employees and $368 billion in revenue in 2020, Amazon is the nation’s second-largest employer after Walmart, reported the Los Angeles Times. Almost 210,000 warehouse workers in California were employed in July, nearly double the number from five years ago.

Opposition to AB701

There is heavy opposition to the bill from retailers and other industries. Republican lawmakers say it will raise consumer prices and burden companies with litigation. The Orange County Register opines that AB701 will do more harm than good by adding substantial new liability on all warehouse employers, creating duplicative rules that will complicate the process of getting products to businesses and consumers, and raise prices on everything. “AB 701 lumps the entire warehousing industry together — increasing the potential for frivolous lawsuits and imposing excessive regulations, which will hurt small businesses and farmers who are less capable of keeping up with rising costs.”

Here is the updated Bill AB701.

This bill, among other things, would require specified employers to provide to each employee, defined as a nonexempt employee who works at a warehouse distribution center, upon hire, or within 30 days of the effective date of these provisions, with a written description of each quota to which the employee is subject, including the quantified number of tasks to be performed, or materials to be produced or handled, within the defined time period, and any potential adverse employment action that could result from failure to meet the quota.

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, as specified.

The bill would prohibit an employer from taking adverse action against an employee for failure to meet a quota that has not been disclosed or for failure to meet a quota that does not allow a worker to comply with meal or rest periods or occupational health and safety laws.

The bill would require that any action taken by an employee to comply with occupational health and safety laws or division standards be considered time on task and productive time for the purposes of any quotas or monitoring system.

This bill would provide that if a current or former employee believes that meeting a quota caused a violation of their right to a meal or rest period or required them to violate any occupational health and safety law or standard, they have the right to request, and the employer is required to provide, a written description of each quota to which the employee is subject and a copy of the most recent 90 days of the employee's own personal work speed data. The bill would limit a former employee to one of these requests.

The bill would also authorize a current or former employee to bring an action for injunctive relief to obtain compliance with specified requirements, and may, upon prevailing in the action, recover costs and reasonable attorney's fees in that action.

This bill would require the Labor Commissioner to enforce these provisions by engaging in coordinated and strategic enforcement efforts with the Department of Industrial Relations, including the Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the Division of Workers' Compensation.

The bill would authorize the commissioner to have access to data from the department including employer-reported injury data and enforcement actions in warehouses, the identity of uninsured employers, and employers who are committing workers' compensation fraud, wage theft, or other information relevant to the commissioner's authority, and would make other conforming changes.

The bill would require the commissioner to report to the Legislature by January 1, 2023, the number of claims filed with the commissioner, data on warehouse production quotas in warehouses with annual employee injury rates above the industry average, and the number of investigations undertaken and enforcement actions initiated, per employer.

This bill would require to commissioner, if a pattern or practice of injuries or health and safety violations is found at a particular worksite or with an employer, to initiate an investigation of violations in coordination with other divisions within the Department of Industrial Relations, as needed.

The bill would authorize the commissioner to adopt regulations relating to the procedures for an employee to make a complaint alleging a violation of this part. (2) The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement. This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.


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