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New California law protects warehouse workers at companies like Amazon, supporters say

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Wednesday establishing first-of-its-kind protections for warehouse workers.

The new law, which will impact companies such as Amazon and other major retailers, forces them to disclose production quotas and productivity metrics to warehouse employees and government agencies. Companies will have 30 days from the date someone is hired to provide an employee with a written description of the quotas they need to meet. 

The law also prohibits employers from penalizing or firing warehouse workers for failing to meet quotas because they took restroom or meal breaks. Companies are barred from retaliating against employees who complain and fail to meet "unsafe" quotas. The measure also gives workers the right to go to court to seek relief.

In addition, the state's labor commission can issue citations and access worker's compensation data to identify warehouses where there might be a link between quotas and injured workers.

"We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people," Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement. "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.

Discipline by algorithm?

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, who wrote the bill, called it "historic" and said it was written with input from warehouse workers.

Gonzalez, an attorney and former labor leader, asserted that Amazon uses "an algorithm" to discipline warehouse workers, according to The Associated Press. She said it keeps tabs on employee activities and can declare anything that isn't directly related to moving packages "off-task."

"Amazon is pushing workers to risk their bodies for next-day delivery, while they can't so much as use the restroom without fearing retaliation," she said.

Teamsters plan effort to unionize Amazon 06:27

Amazon employees have long complained of unsafe working conditions and retaliation from managers when they don't meet quotas because they have to take a break to use the bathroom or eat a meal. Some also have said they can be fired for falling behind on packing boxes.

Warehouse working conditions were among the leading factors spurring employees at the company's Bessemer, Alabama, facility to try to unionize earlier this year. Although Amazon easily defeated that effort in April, the National Labor Relations Board said last month that the ecommerce giant broke federal labor law and recommended a new vote in Bessemer.

Retailers say law will cost jobs

Amazon declined to comment on the new California law. Full-time employees at the company's warehouses typically work 10 hour shifts, four days a week with paid breaks throughout the day. And for frontline workers, performance targets are determined based on employee performance over a period of time.

A trade group representing retailers in California lobbied against the bill, known as AB 701, saying it would result in job losses and cause shipping delays.

"We are disappointed Governor Newsom signed AB 701, which will exacerbate our current supply chain issues, increase the cost of living for all Californians and eliminate good-paying jobs," Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, said in a statement after the measure was signed into law. "With California's ports facing record backlogs of ships waiting off the coast and inflation spiking to the fastest pace in 13 years, AB 701 will make matters worse for everyone — creating more backordered goods and higher prices for everything from clothes, diapers and food to auto parts, toys and pet supplies."

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