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California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs into law bill to protect warehouse workers

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs into law bill to protect warehouse workers
Warehouse workers, who say they haven't been adequately protected from the coronavirus are seen at an Amazon facility in Hawthorne, Calif., on December 15, 2020. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 23 (UPI) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law legislation to protect warehouse workers from injury by barring production quotas that limit breaks.

The Democratic governor signed Assembly Bill 701 on Wednesday, saying it gives warehouse workers "the dignity, respect and safety they deserve."

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"We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people," Newsom 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."

The bill, which the Senate passed early this month in a 26-11 vote, forces warehouse companies, such as Amazon, to disclose production quotas by Jan. 1, while prohibiting them from using algorithms that limit workers from taking mandated bathroom or other breaks.

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According to the governor's office, the law also protects workers from being fired or punished for failure to meet unsafe working quotas while allowing them to seek relief if they are. The bill also allows the labor commissioner to issue citations and access data to identify facilities with high rates of injury due to potentially unsafe working environments.

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California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the author of the bill, said it was the nation's first such law that demands transparency requirements and worker protections against warehouse production quotas.

In a statement Wednesday, the Democrat named e-commerce behemoth Amazon as the leader in the decline of warehouse working conditions in its push to shorten delivery times of its goods.

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"Amazon's business model relies on enforcing inhumane work speeds that are injuring and churning through workers at a faster rate than we've ever seen. Workers aren't machines," she said. "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.'"

The bill was signed into law amid criticism directed at Amazon over its controversial use of production quotas.

According to a report from the Strategic Organizing Center, for every 100 Amazon warehouse workers last year there were 5.9 serious injuries, a rate 80% higher than that experienced at other warehouse employers.

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Last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission urging Chair Charlotte Burrows to investigation allegations that Amazon denies accommodations for pregnant employees.

The Democratic New York senator, a critic of the company, in May also called on Amazon to release information concerning reports about the firing of employees who have raised concerns about safety conditions in warehouses during the coronavirus pandemic.

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In her statement Wednesday, Gonzalez said that while AB 701 is about "empowering" workers to keep themselves safe, more still needs to be done.

"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 about the law in check," she said.

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