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New California law eases distribution center quotas

There’s been a lot of media attention recently on the conditions faced by employees who work in large warehouse distribution centers like those run by Amazon. That’s been in no small part because of the employees themselves speaking out about those conditions and the unrealistic expectations placed on them by their employers.

California (which already has some of the strongest worker protection laws in the country) is doing something about that beginning on Jan. 1, 2022. In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 701 into law.

What is in the new law?

The law, which is the first of its kind in the U.S., regulates production quotas for employees in these distribution centers. Specifically, the law:

  • Requires employers to inform workers of their production quotas within 30 days of being hired or the effective date of the law (whichever is first)
  • Prohibits employers to arrive at those quotas using algorithms that don’t take into account restroom breaks, rest periods or adherence to safety and health laws
  • Prohibits termination or other retaliation against workers who don’t meet a quota that compromises worker safety.

While the law isn’t specifically aimed at Amazon, the California lawmaker behind it, who used to be a labor leader, has spoken out against the online retail behemoth. She said that their current algorithm that’s used to determine quotas doesn’t take into consideration any time not devoted to work. She said that “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.”

Opponents of the legislation have expressed concern that the new law will push large, profitable businesses out of California to states with less stringent employment laws. That remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, it’s crucial for employees to know and understand their rights and to speak up if their employer isn’t abiding by the law.

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