California Bill Could Change Amazon's Labor Practices

Among the biggest economic winners from the pandemic is Amazon, which nearly doubled its annual profit last year to reach $ 21 billion ...


Among the biggest economic winners from the pandemic is Amazon, which nearly doubled its annual profit last year to reach $ 21 billion and is on the beat far exceed that total this year.

Profits come from the millions of Americans who appreciate the convenience of fast home delivery, but critics complain the arrangement is costing workers dearly, which they say the company is pushing to physical extremes.

That working model could start to change under a California bill that would require warehouse employers like Amazon to disclose productivity quotas for workers, whose progress they often track using algorithms. .

“The monitoring function is taken over by the computers,” said MP Lorena Gonzalez, the author of the bill. “But they don’t take the human factor into account.

The bill, which the assembly passed in May and which the state Senate is expected to vote on this week, would ban any quotas that prevent workers from taking state-imposed breaks or using the restroom in case need, or that prevents employers from complying with health and safety regulations.

The legislation has met with stiff opposition from business groups, who argue it would lead to an explosion of costly litigation and punish an entire industry for the perceived excesses of a single employer.

“They’re going after a business, but at the same time they’re luring everyone else in the supply chain under that umbrella,” said Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, at the edge of which Amazon is seated.

California plays a disproportionate role in the e-commerce and distribution industry, both because of its huge economy and status as a technology hub, and because it is home to the ports through which a large portion of inventory imported from Amazon is coming. The Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles has one of the highest concentrations of Amazon fulfillment centers in the country.

Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, declined to comment on the bill, but said in a statement that “performance targets are determined based on the actual performance of employees over a period of time” and that they take into account the employee’s experience as well as health and safety. considerations.

Terminations for performance issues are rare – less than 1%, ”added Ms. Nantel.

The company is increasingly subject to scrutiny in its treatment of workers, including an expected decision a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that he illegally interfered in a union vote in an Alabama warehouse. The discovery could spark a new election there, although Amazon has said it will appeal to preserve the original vote, in which it prevailed.

In June, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters passed a resolution calling on the union to provide “all necessary resources” to organize Amazon workers, in part in put pressure on the company through political channels. Teamsters officials participated in successful efforts to deny Amazon a tax allowance in Indiana and approval for installation in Colorado and are supporters of California law.

Both sides appear to view Amazon’s quota fight as high stakes. “We know that the future of work falls into this algorithm, an aspect of the AI ​​genre,” said Ms. Gonzalez, the author of the bill. “If we don’t step in now, other companies will be the next step.

Ms Michelin, president of the retail association, stressed that the data was “proprietary information” and said supporters of the bill “want this data because it helps unionize distribution centers.”

A report from the Strategic Organization Center, a group supported by four unions, shows that Amazon’s critical injury rate nationwide was almost double that of the rest of the warehousing industry in 2020 and more than double that of the warehouses of Walmart, a major competitor.

Asked about the findings, Ms Nantel, the Amazon spokesperson, did not directly address them but said the company had recently entered into a partnership with a nonprofit security advocacy group to develop ways to prevent musculoskeletal injuries. She also said Amazon has invested more than $ 300 million this year in security measures, such as desktop redesigns.

Amazon employees have often complained that supervisors push them to work at speeds that physically tire them out.

“There were a lot of grandmothers,” said a worker in a to study endorsed by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, another supporter of the California bill. The managers “would come over to these older women and say, ‘Hey, I need you to speed up’, and then you could see in her face that she almost wanted to cry. She said to me, ‘This is the fastest that my body literally can go.’

Yesenia Barrera, a former Amazon employee in California, said officials told her she had to remove 200 items per hour from a conveyor belt, unwrap and scan them. She said she was usually only able to achieve this by minimizing the use of her bathroom.

“It would be me to ignore the use of toilet type things in order to be able to do that,” Ms. Barrera said in an interview for this article. “When the bell rang for a break, I felt like I had to do a few other things before taking off. “

Edward Flores, faculty director at the Community and Labor Center at the University of California at Merced, said repetitive strain injury was a particular problem in the warehousing industry as companies automated their operations.

“You react to the speed at which a machine is moving,” said Dr. Flores, who has studied injuries in industry. “The greater dependence on robotics, the higher incidence of repetitive movements and therefore repetitive injuries. »Amazon was a chef in the adoption of warehouse robotics.

Ms Gonzalez said that when she met with Amazon officials after presenting a similar invoice last year they denied using quotas, saying they relied instead on targets and workers were not punished for not meeting them.

In a meeting days before the assembly passed this year’s bill, she said, Amazon officials acknowledged they could do more to promote health and safety of their workers, but did not come up with specific proposals beyond coaching employees on how to be more productive.

At one point in the most recent meeting, Ms. Gonzalez recalled, an Amazon official raised concerns that some employees would abuse more generous time to use the restroom before another. responsible does not intervene to mitigate the point.

“Someone else tried to push him back,” she said. “It is often said in a low voice. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it.

The Bill’s path has always looked rockier in the State Senate, where amendments have weakened it. The bill no longer directs the state agency for occupational safety and health to develop a rule preventing injuries in warehouses resulting from overwork or other physical stress.

Instead, it gives the state labor commissioner’s office access to quota and injury data so it can strengthen enforcement. Workers could also sue employers for eliminating overly strict quotas.

Ms Gonzalez said she feels confident about the Senate vote, which is due to take place at the close of the legislative session on Friday, but business groups are still working hard to derail it.

Ms Michelin, chair of the retail group, said changes made by Senate committees had made the bill more palatable and her members could support a measure that would give regulators more resources to enforce health rules. and security. But she said they had serious concerns about how the bill allows workers to sue their employers.

As long as this provision remains in the bill, she said, “we will never support it.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: California Bill Could Change Amazon's Labor Practices
California Bill Could Change Amazon's Labor Practices
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