California advances bill targeting Amazon labor algorithms


California is close to enacting a first-of-its-kind law that would block Amazon and other companies from punishing warehouse workers who fail to meet certain performance metrics for taking rest or meal breaks.

If enacted, the bill, AB 701, would allow warehouse workers to challenge performance goals that many say discourage them from taking bathroom breaks or other rest breaks throughout the work day. The bill was written in response to high rates of reported injuries at Amazon warehouses where performance quotas are algorithmically enforced.

The California Senate approved the measure on Wednesday, sending it back to the Assembly where minor changes can be made before it finally lands on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. Newsom has not signaled whether he would sign the bill.

AB 701 does not explicitly name Amazon in its text, but both Republican and Democratic lawmakers recognize that the e-commerce giant would be greatly affected by the enactment of the legislation. Over the last few years, Amazon has come under intense criticism for its performance quotas with several outlets reporting that workers have peed in bottles as a means of meeting their warehouse fulfillment goals and maintaining their jobs.

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The bill would also force companies like Amazon to make these performance algorithms more transparent, disclosing quotas to both workers and regulators.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.

Supporters of the legislation say that the bill would tamper down warehouse injuries, giving workers the opportunity to take breaks when over-stressed.

“The bill is the first attempt to create transparency and protections against unsafe algorithmic-enforced quota systems used by corporations like to push warehouse workers’ bodies to the breaking point,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D) said in a tweet Wednesday.

Business groups have come out in opposition of the bill, suggesting that it would harm the industry by empowering employees to file lawsuits that could be costly and time-consuming for companies.

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