Newsom signs bill on warehouse worker quotas and break time in Patterson and beyond

Source: John Holland, The Modesto Bee

Workers at Amazon and other large warehouses got new protections under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

It bars these employers from imposing production quotas so demanding that people have to skip meal and restroom breaks. And it requires the companies to disclose all quotas in advance to employees and regulators.

The rules will apply to the vast warehouses built in recent years to fulfill online orders. Patterson has several such businesses, including Amazon, Kohls, CVS Pharmacy, Grainger and Restoration Hardware. Amazon will open a center in Turlock next year.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, authored the bill at the behest of people concerned about injuries.

“Workers aren’t machines,” she said in a news release Wednesday. “We’re not going to allow a corporation that puts profits over workers’ bodies to set labor standards back decades just for ‘same-day delivery.’ ”

The measure, Assembly Bill 701, applies to warehouses with at least 100 employees, starting Jan. 1. It exempts those used for farm products.

Opponents claimed that the injury risk was overstated and that the rules would worsen supply chains already stressed by COVID-19.

About 50 groups formed a coalition against the bill, chaired by Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association.

“With California’s ports facing record backlogs of ships waiting off the coast and inflation spiking to the fastest pace in 13 years, AB 701 will make matters worse for everyone — creating more back-ordered goods and higher prices for everything from clothes, diapers and food to auto parts, toys and pet supplies,” Michelin said in a news release.

The state Senate passed the bill in its final form on a 26-11 vote Sept. 8. The Assembly followed the next day on a 52-19 vote.

Lawmakers representing Stanislaus County split along party lines. Democrats Adam Gray and Anna Caballero voted for the bill. Republicans Heath Flora and Andreas Borgeas were opposed. Democrat Susan Talamantes Eggman did not vote.

The bill also directs the state Department of Industrial Relations to gather data on warehouse worker injuries and enforcement actions.

“We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people,” Newsom said in a news release. “The hard-working warehouse employees who have helped sustain us during these unprecedented times should not have to risk injury or face punishment as a result of exploitative quotas that violate basic health and safety.”