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California Senate clears bill targeting Amazon labor practices blamed for missed bathroom breaks

Workers handle boxes inside the Amazon Fulfillment center in Robbinsville Township, N.J.
Workers handle boxes inside the Amazon Fulfillment center in Robbinsville Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

California Senate clears bill targeting Amazon labor practices blamed for missed bathroom breaks

September 09, 11:52 AM September 09, 12:44 PM

California’s Senate dealt Amazon a blow by passing a bill targeting the company’s labor practices as workers across the country complain about warehouse conditions.

The legislation cleared the Senate 26-to-11 and is anticipated to be passed by the House and sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. The bill seeks to curtail so-called production quotas for warehouse workers, who have complained of being overworked to the point of forgoing bathroom breaks.

The bill mandates that Amazon and other companies make quotas publicly available to employees and regulators and provides workers a legal avenue if the quotas stop them from following state-sanctioned safety protocols or breaks, according to the New York Times.

“In the Amazon warehouse space, what we’re trying to take on is this increased use of quotas and discipline based on not meeting the quotas without a human factor in dealing with a reason why a worker might not make a quota,” said the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

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Amazon has faced several accusations of working employees to the point of exhaustion under threat of termination. Amazon’s warehouse quotas are tracked by complex algorithms that attempt to make its workspaces as efficient as possible to meet shipping deadlines.

The multinational online retailer faced intense pressure and media scrutiny earlier this year when employees at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse attempted to unionize. Figures on both sides of the political spectrum, from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, championed the cause of the warehouse workers.

Amazon, now the country’s second-largest private employer, has batted back condemnation by highlighting its $15 minimum wage, well above the federal minimum wage and many state minimums.

One employee who testified before the Senate earlier this year said that the problems were less about wages and more about the work environment.

“Amazon brags it pays workers above the minimum wage. What they don’t tell you is what those jobs are really like,” said Jennifer Bates in March. “And they certainly don’t tell you that they can afford to do much better for the workers. Working at Amazon [warehouses] is no easy thing. The shifts are long. The pace is super fast. You’re constantly being watched and monitored. They seem to think you are another machine.”

There have also been claims that Amazon workers are forced to relieve themselves in bottles to save time and meet work quotas. Amazon has denied that workers have had to urinate in bottles, but an internal company email obtained by the Intercept showed an Amazon logistics area manager imploring employees not to defecate into bags. It also acknowledged urine-filled bottles.

“This evening, an associate discovered human feces in an Amazon bag that was returned to station by a driver. This is the 3rd occasion in the last 2 months when bags have been returned to station with poop inside. We understand that DA’s [driver associates] may have emergencies while on-road, and especially during Covid, DAs have struggled to find bathrooms while delivering.”

An investigative report by the New York Times found that 3% of Amazon’s hourly employees are either fired or quit each week, equating to an annual turnover rate of 150%.

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It is unclear if Newsom intends to sign the legislation, which is expected to pass the lower chamber, although his staff helped craft the bill by softening certain provisions to allow its passage in the Senate. Newsom’s office declined to comment on the legislation but said it will be evaluated on its merits should it reach the governor’s desk.

The Washington Examiner also contacted Amazon for comment about the legislation’s passage but did not immediately receive a response.

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