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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Warehouse Worker Extended Protection Bill Faces Senate Vote

AB 3056 narrows down what does and does not constitute legitimate time off during work hours

By Evan Symon, June 19, 2020 2:23 am

This week, a bill aiming prohibit time used going to the restroom, using a hand-washing station, drinking water, reporting a Labor Code violation or taking a break from being counted toward the time required to complete a quota was moved through the Assembly to the Senate.

AB 3056 and the redefinition of ‘time off tasks’

Assembly Bill 3056, written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), would subsequently prohibit companies from counting movement such as walking to and from the restroom or performing worker safety-related activities as a “time off task”. Under the bill, warehouse workers can also not be penalized or fired for such actions. Companies that violate the new law would subject to fines as high as $1,000 per incident.

Assemblywoman Gonzalez wrote AB 3056 to update current worker laws that don’t cover warehouse employees in many situations and to create a precedent for all warehouse jobs as the warehouse industry, led by companies such as Amazon, grows dramatically across California. The current coronavirus pandemic, which led to a greater need of warehouse services, also led to the bill being written.

“Workers should never be punished for taking a restroom break or washing their hands during their shifts, but warehouse distribution centers, like those operated by Amazon, penalize employees that operate under a quota when they use their time for these basic human needs,”¬†said Assemblywoman Gonzalez in a statement last month. “We need to act now to create safe workplaces and fair pay standards for California workers in large warehouses.”

AB 3056 was passed by a 52-20 mostly party line vote on Monday, followed by a Senate reading Tuesday. While the majority of lawmakers agreed with the bill, many others didn’t due to the broad language, the existence of other labor laws that guarantee similar protections, and the need for a more flexible wording due to the increasing changes in company warehouse activities.

Changes to the warehouse system in California

“A warehouse worker isn’t an easy job,” explained Hector Salazar, a former warehouse shift manager for a large nation-wide company. “Everyone needs to fill orders quickly. That means working the aisles, finding the things needing to go out, boxing them up, shipping them. And all over there are forklifts, ladders, all kinds of equipment circulating around, some human, some automated.”

“A lot of this is automated, and for some companies humans are left out of the equation. There are systems that track time off periods, where everyone is, and can even let people go all without much input from a human.”

“That [bill] doesn’t really factor in this and the sweeping changes this brings. Tracking how much time people spend or if they’re away from tasks is going to be much harder. And it isn’t a ‘work ’em hard’ sort of thing. It’s a safety issue to. If they’re off on their own time within the warehouse, it can throw things for a loop. People can be injured.”

“The bill is right in that some issues need to be addressed, especially if the warehouse or company itself forces workers into these holes in the system. But there needs to be some slack in there so that it can be custom fit for each warehouse.”

“Plus, warehouses operate very differently than they did 20, even 10 years ago. The bill needs to be loose to allow future changes.”

“I’m all for protecting employees and having a safe working environment, especially now with COVID. But we need to do it right and plan not just now but for the future.”

AB 3056 is due to be heard in the Senate later this month.

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