Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, signed a series of 18 workers protection bills that abolish a few of the most criticized practices at workplaces, such as productivity quotas and fewer wages for disabled workers. The bill, dubbed Assembly Bill 701, was approved in the assembly with a 26-11 majority.
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The latest provisions are mainly aimed at companies with warehouse laborers, such as Amazon and those in the garment industry. The bill vows to put an end to the productivity quotas and workplace rules that prohibit an employee to take rest or bathroom breaks.
Governor Newsom's office regarded it as an historic action to abolish decades-old unfair pay wage practices and actions that compromise workers' health and safety. In a much-awaited decision, Governor Newsom signed the bill aiming to protect warehouse workers from unfair speed quotas. This bill was long under debate in its relevancy with the complaints against cruel workplace practices at Amazon due to being opposed and lobbied against strongly by a union of over 50 organizations.
What are productivity quotas?
A productivity, or speed, quota refers to the set goal or a set amount of products an individual or a team of workers are expected to produce in a given timeframe. Productivity quotas are adopted mostly in manufacturing firms where workers must complete the assigned quota to retain their jobs.
While this practice is followed worldwide, it has long been called out for being cruel and inhumane. One such incident that may have backed Governor Newsom's inclination to sign the bill are reports of Amazon employees urinating in water bottles and avoiding trips to the bathroom to save time and avoid penalties.
While no single company was named by the Governor or his office, the legislation might be based off of the rising rates of injuries at Amazon warehouses. Surprisingly, the number of serious injuries at Amazon had doubled as compared to last year.
However, the new law introduces its standards for speed quotas that prohibit companies from penalizing workers for complying with safety and health rules that could affect the pace of work, such as going to the restroom.
AB 701, which will be in full effect starting January 1, 2022, makes the following amendments to the existing law:
- Stop employers or corporations from punishing workers due to the productivity quotas that violate health and safety laws.
- Employers are now bound to provide the workers with a written notice of such quotas, if any.
- Provide a worker with the right to access personal work speed metrics.
- Provide the workers with a right to recover cost and attorney fees from the company if the worker feels he/she was a subject of retaliation due to quota performance.
In his statement, Newsom insisted that warehouse employees who have helped us sustain during such challenging times should not bear the risk of injuries due to exploitative speed quotas that are not in accordance with basic health and safety standards.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who proposed the bill, stated that workers aren't machines and we shouldn’t allow corporations to put profit over workers' bodies in exchange for the acceleration of delivery.
Gonzalez inferred the provision as a move to provide basic rights and dignity to the workers to help them stay safe and to oversee the harsh algorithmic job surveillance.
The approval of AB 701 has been lauded by labor groups and unions. Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, stated on Twitter that the recent legislation is a victory for the warehouse workers who are responsible for keeping our communities running during the pandemic.
Some highlights of the AB 701
SB 62 will adopt new policies that prohibit the practice of piecewise compensation for wage workers that are often misused by corporations to pay workers below the minimum wage. Piecewise compensation is a practice of paying the worker for the number of units of goods produced.
Ensures that people with disabilities are paid in accordance with the state’s minimum wage.
Calls to form a committee that oversees policies to provide health, safety, and child support guidelines for domestic workers.
Oversees the laws regarding grand theft and intentional theft of wages, benefits, and gratuities.
Proposed by Assemblyman Robert Rivas, this law insists that agricultural workers are considered essential workers and thus, are given access to a Personal Protective Equipment stockpile to help keep them safe from wildfire smoke. The complete list of bills in the package is as follows:
- AB 73: Health emergencies: employment safety; agricultural workers; wildfire smoke.
- AB 628: Breaking Barriers to Employment Initiative.
- AB 643: Apprenticeship programs; career fairs.
- AB 1003: Wage theft; grand theft.
- AB 1023: Contractors and subcontractors: records; penalties.
- AB 1033: Family Rights Act: parent-in-law; small employer family leave mediation pilot program.
- AB 1506: Worker status: employees and independent contractors; newspaper distributors and carriers.
- SB 62: Employment: garment manufacturing.
- SB 270: Public employment: labor relations; employee information.
- SB 278: Public Employees’ Retirement System: disallowed compensation; benefit adjustments.
- SB 321: Employment safety standards: advisory committee; household domestic services.
- SB 338: Joint and several liability of port drayage motor carrier customers: health & safety violations; prior offenders; liability owed to the state.
- SB 362: Chain community pharmacies: quotas.
- SB 572: Labor Commissioner: enforcement; a lien on real property.
- SB 606: Workplace safety: violations of statutes; enterprise-wide violations; egregious violations.
- SB 639: Minimum wages: persons with disabilities.
- SB 646: Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA): janitorial employees.
- SB 727: Labor-related liabilities: direct contractor.