A bill that would regulate productivity quotas in delivery warehouses, as well as publicly disclose what those quotas are, was passed in the state Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 26-11.
Assembly Bill 701, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-CA) would specifically require warehouse distribution center companies to give each employee, either upon hire or within 30 days of the bill being passed, 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”, as well as what punishments would be instituted if the employee fails to do so. All quotas under AB 701 would also not be allowed to tie-in with lunch breaks, rest periods, employees needing to use the rest room, or health and safety law compliance, with health and safety compliance specifically being written in as being on work time and not as a break.
Employers will not be able to punish employees either under the bill for failing to meet a quota that doesn’t comply with meal, rest, and health and safety periods. AB 701, also known as the Warehouse Workers Protection Act, would also make it easier for employees to check to see if meeting a quota caused any violation of their rights in relation having periods of meals, rest, or health and safety compliance.
The Labor Commissioner would enforce these positions under the bill in coordination with the Department of Industrial Relations, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and the Division of Workers’ Compensation.
Assemblywoman Gonzalez specifically wrote AB 701 due to companies, such as Amazon, that incorporate warehouse distribution centers posting high numbers of injuries caused by high quota numbers. According to Gonzalez, employees in these warehouses scramble to meet these work quotas, with the result of double the industry average for injuries. Much like Gonzalez’s AB 5 worker reclassification bill, which initially went after rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft and then expanded out to others, the Assemblywoman noted that AB 701 initially targeted Amazon but is now covering all other companies that use such quotas in warehouses.
“We’re absolutely targeting the practices of Amazon that are being picked up, quite frankly, by other retailers,” explained Gonzalez earlier this week.
The bill has been largely divided along party lines, with it being passed by the Assembly pre-amendments in May by a 52-19 vote and the Senate on Wednesday with a 26-11 tally.
— Lorena Gonzalez (@LorenaSGonzalez) September 8, 2021
The passage of AB 701 on Wednesday was praised by many Democratic lawmakers, labor groups, and organizers who say that the bill helps curtail warehouse quota abuses and gives employees the time they need to help function and be productive.
Support of, opposition against AB 701
“These production systems that give ridiculous work quotas were harming many workers,” explained San Bernardino County labor organizer Eduardo Cruz to the Globe on Wednesday. “It’s been shown that employees are being negatively affected by it. These regulations under AB 701 help warehouse workers out a ton.”
“I’ve talked to many warehouse workers under these quotas. This is what it’s like. Bathrooms are usually far away from the main areas of the warehouse, which are huge by the way. Think football fields in size. An employee has to make a mad dash across the warehouse to use the restroom and back just to remain on their quota for the day, which in Amazon’s instance, is how many things you have gathered for boxes.”
“And those things can be located all over the warehouse. It’s just moving all day. It cuts into break and lunch and it just isn’t right. AB 701 preserves those times off and doesn’t punish the employee. Or worse, causes them serious injury.”
Republican legislators, as well as many business and retail groups, opposed the bill, saying that the increased business and labor restrictions will hurt businesses, help drive out more companies out of California, and would increase the cost of living in the state.
“AB 701 impacts distribution centers across industries and will increase the cost of living for all Californians, kill good-paying jobs and damage our fragile supply chain,” said Rachel Michelin, President of the California Retailers Association, earlier this week. “If there is a business that is not living up to the workplace standards, they should be held accountable. We don’t disagree with that. But do we need this broad, sweeping legislation that impacts every aspect of the supply chain in California? I don’t think so.”
AB 701 is currently set for another vote by the Assembly soon. Should it pass there a second time, the bill will be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom to sign. As of Wednesday, Newsom has given no indication whether or not he will sign AB 701 into law.
If passed, AB 701 will be the first law in the nation to regulate warehouse worker quotas.