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Industry Insights

Moreno: Quotas and Warehouse Workers

  • State: California

It is one of the main reasons warehouse and other factory workers get injured on the job.

Cynthia Moreno

Cynthia Moreno

To satisfy quotas, workers are compelled to skip rest periods, bathroom breaks and, too often, can’t comply with health and safety standards.

The problem is more evident at grand scale corporations like Amazon, which has become the second-largest private employer in the United States with close to 1 million workers. According to Amazon’s own data, its workers must rush to pack and ship millions of orders to customers, to be delivered within the span of a few hours.

Earlier this year, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, introduced Assembly Bill 701 to protect workers from these injury-causing speedups.

The bill would prohibit companies from disciplining or firing warehouse workers for failing to meet a quota that does not allow them to take meal and rest breaks and comply with health and safety laws.

As one Amazon warehouse facility worker who supported the bill and currently lives in the Inland Empire, put it:

“The work is fast and harsh on the body. We are carrying, bending, reaching, twisting and packing items from 30-60 pounds for hours at a time and walk 15 to 30 miles a day with no proper rest time in between. I always felt the stress of having to work fast or even ignore my personal needs like restroom or water because I didn’t want to be written up and terminated for it. We are not robots, we are human.”

Gonzalez said, “No worker should be forced to sacrifice their basic human needs for a paycheck.”

Her bill also directs the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to establish new standards by Jan. 1, 2023, to minimize the risk of injuries and disorders among warehouse employees who are subject to production quotas.

Although the bill didn’t specifically mention a particular warehouse or corporation, it was apparent and evident that she was targeting Amazon, Walmart and other warehouse, retail and factory giants that place profits over people.

Last month, the bill prevailed in both houses and landed on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. He signed the bill because if there is anything we learned from this ongoing pandemic, it's that warehouse workers — considered essential — ensured that the public was able to get the goods they needed without leaving home.

The bill is a huge step forward in protecting workers’ rights.

Starting in January 2022, the bill will require corporations to disclose production quota descriptions to their workers and prohibit the use of algorithms that disrupt basic worker rights such as rest periods, bathroom breaks or compliance with health and safety laws.

The legislation will ensure workers cannot be fired or retaliated against for failing to meet an unsafe quota and allows them to pursue injunctive relief. 

Cynthia Moreno is communications director for the California Applicants' Attorneys Association. This opinion is republished, with permission, from the CAAA website.

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