California warehouse workers are now closer to being allowed to urinate in peace. Yesterday's vote in the state Senate was 26 to 11, which passed AB 701, a bill that targets Amazon and other warehousing firms that track worker productivity. Employers would be prohibited from counting warehouse workers' productivity against compliance with safety and health laws. The bill, which organizers claim is the first to address algorithmic work in the country, is currently on its way to Governor Gavin Newsoms desk.
Some observers believe Newsom will sign the bill, given his track record with pro-worker legislation such as AB 5. However, he has so far remained silent on AB 701. Newsom's office declined to answer questions about his intentions and said that the bill would be evaluated on its merits once it reached the governors desk. This recall election will take place September 14.
Advocates like Yesenia Barrera, a former Amazon seasonal worker, were pleased to hear that AB 701 was passed. She traveled to Sacramento to support the bill and helped stage a mock assembly line at the Capitol steps. Barrera worked in the fulfillment center at Rialto, California for five months before she was fired in 2019. She didn't know the rigidity of Amazon's productivity system or the extent of Amazons barcode-based employee tracking matrix. She believed that only lazy people were fired.
Barreras barcode scanning device got caught underneath some boxes along the conveyor belt during a hectic shift. She struggled to get the gun out as more boxes tumbled down the conveyor belt. She finally pulled it out but it struck her face. It injures her eye and temporarily makes her see black. Her supervisor appeared shortly afterwards to inquire why shed had stopped scanning. I thought, "How did she know that I wasn't scanning?" She was not in the area. She claims she was given a paper towel and an ibuprofen at an onsite clinic. Then she was told to go back to work. My manager said that he had seen you taking the ibuprofen. Barrera says that you'll be fine. During her own vision loss, she realized that she was constantly under the watchful eye of an all-seeing eye.
Barrera was soon written up by another manager for excessive Time Off Task, Amazons system to track employee productivity. The TOT clock started ticking if Barrera waited more than five minutes before scanning a barcode. This applies regardless of whether the time was spent in the bathroom, wiping down a desk, laughing, or just taking a break. Amazon changed the system in June to average TOT over a longer time. Too much TOT could lead to termination and a writeup. We would chat and sometimes the girls would say, "I'm on my period and I get Time Off Task," Barrera said. When she went to work, she found that shed had been terminated and that her badge didn't work. (Amazon didn't respond to any requests for comment about Barrera's story, or any other related to AB 701.)
Barrera workers would see a change in the system with AB 701. Employers must disclose to employees their productivity quotas upon hiring, as well as any penalties for not meeting them. Time off work does not include trips to the toilet, legal health and safety measures such as stretching or sanitizing a workspace, and they do not count as time spent in the bathroom. (Trips are the operative word. Many warehouses can hold so many items that it takes 10 to 15 minutes to walk round the bathroom. Eight if you jog, says Barrera.) The state labor commissioner has access to data about injury rates and quotas, and workers can request 90-days worth of productivity figures. An employee can sue an employer if they fail to comply with the Private Attorney Generals Act.