Warehouse worker at California is one step closer to being able to urinate quietly. Yesterday, the State Senate passed AB 701 by a vote of 26 to 11. The bill directly targets Amazon and other warehouse companies that track worker productivity. The bill will prevent employers from comparing compliance with health and safety laws — yes, restroom breaks — with the production time of warehouse workers, which is increasingly controlled by algorithms. The bill was called the nation’s first bill to solve the future of algorithmic work by the organizers, and it is now heading to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk to sign it.
Although some observers expect Newsom to sign the bill because of his record in other pro-worker legislation, Such as AB 5, So far, he has remained silent on AB 701.When asked about his intentions, Newsom’s office objected, saying only: “The bill will be evaluated when it reaches the governor’s desk.” (The governor is currently resisting Recall election, Which occurred on September 14th. )
The passage of AB 701 is welcome news for advocates like Yesenia Barerra, a former Amazon seasonal worker who traveled to Sacramento to campaign for the bill and helped build a simulation on the steps of the state capitol. Assembly line. Barrera worked for the company’s operations center in Rialto, California for five months, until she left in 2019. When she was hired, she didn’t realize the rigidity of the productivity system, or the scope of Amazon’s camera and barcode-based employee tracking matrix. She thought that only slackers were fired.
During a busy shift, Barrera’s barcode scanner got stuck under some boxes on the conveyor belt. As more and more boxes leaned along the line, she tried to move the gun away. At last she pulled it out, but it hit her face, hurt her eyes, and let her temporarily see black. A few minutes later, her supervisor suddenly asked her why she stopped scanning. “I was thinking, how did she know that I was not scanning? She was not in that area.” At the on-site clinic, she said that she had received wet tissues and ibuprofen, and then was told to go back to work. “My manager said, I saw you eat ibuprofen. You will be fine,” Barrera recalled. With her own eyesight impaired, she is keenly aware that she has been under the surveillance of the all-seeing eye.
Soon after, Barrera was written too many “overtime tasks” by another manager, a system that Amazon uses to track employee productivity. If the barcode is not scanned for more than five minutes, the TOT clock will be ticking, regardless of whether the time is spent using the bathroom, wiping the workstation, being lazy, or just taking a breath. (In June, Amazon modified the system to average TOT over a longer period of time.) Too much TOT was the reason for writing, and it was eventually terminated. “Sometimes we chat, and the girls will say, I’m menstruating, and I’m going to take time off,” Barrera said. When she reported to her next scheduled shift, she found out that she had been fired and her badge was no longer available. (Amazon did not respond to requests for comment on Barrera’s story or anything else related to AB 701.)
AB 701 will change the rules of the game for workers like Barrera. The bill requires employers to disclose productivity quotas to workers at the time of hiring, as well as any penalties for non-compliance. Going to the bathroom does not count as a vacation, nor does the health and safety measures permitted by law (such as stretching or disinfecting the workstation). (“Travel” is a valid word. Many warehouses are very spacious and it can take 10 to 15 minutes to and from the restroom. If you jog, eight minutes, Barrera said.) It also gives workers the right to request 90 days’ worth of their own Productivity data, and grant state labor commissioners access to quota and injury rate data. If the employer does not comply, the employee can file a lawsuit under a state statute called the “Private Attorney General Act.”