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Newsom signs bill taking aim at labor practices in Amazon warehouses

Workers at a San Bernardino Amazon fulfillment center in 2016.
Workers pack items on Cyber Monday in 2016 at an Amazon fulfilment center in San Bernardino.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Amazon and other warehouse operators across California will face new regulation of their labor practices under a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday evening.

The first-of-its-kind legislation, AB 701, gives Amazon and other warehouse workers new power to fight quotas, which critics say have fostered dangerous conditions by pressuring workers to skip bathroom breaks and skirt safety measures.

“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,” Newsom said in a statement.

AB 701, headed to a Senate vote this week, is the first legislation in the U.S. that would regulate warehouse performance metrics.

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The measure requires warehouses to disclose quotas and work-speed metrics to employees and government agencies and prohibits penalties for stopping work to use the bathroom and other activities that affect health and safety. It also prohibits retaliation against workers who complain.

Current or former workers alleging illegal labor practices will have the ability to pursue injunctive relief, meaning that instead of simply suing a company to secure penalties or damages, workers who lost their jobs could file suit to try to reverse their termination.

“We’re not going to allow a corporation that puts profits over workers’ bodies to set labor standards back decades just for ‘same-day delivery,’” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the bill’s author, said in a statement. “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.”

Under AB 701, if a particular worksite or employer is found to have “an annual employee injury rate of at least 1.5 times higher than the warehousing industry’s average annual injury rate,” California’s agency overseeing workplace health and safety is required to report that entity to the state’s labor commissioner — who will then determine whether to investigate the facility.

Amazon’s injury rate has been shown to be nearly twice that of the warehouse industry generally, according to studies cited by the Senate Judiciary Committee in its analysis of the legislation.

The proposal faced heavy opposition from retailers and other industries, which warned that if implemented, AB 701 would increase manufacturing, storage and distribution costs, which would be passed on to consumers.

The bill aims to hold clothing companies accountable for the labor practices of their subcontractors — closing a longstanding loophole.

Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Assn., said in a statement Wednesday that the legislation will stick higher prices on clothes, diapers and other supplies, and hamper the movement of coronavirus tests from warehouses to hospitals, pharmacies and doctors’ offices heading into the winter months.

“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,” Michelin said in the statement.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

AB 701 will take effect Jan. 1.


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