A new California law could let Amazon workers fight against ‘relentless’ quotas and demand to see hidden productivity metrics

Amazon warehouse
An Amazon worker in a warehouse. Noah Berger/Reuters
  • California passed a bill Wednesday that limits the quotas warehouses can give their workers.
  • Under the bill, workers can demand transparency and protest quotas that interfere with their breaks.
  • The bill is partly geared towards Amazon. Its author has said Amazon has “relentless” quotas.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

California just passed a new bill that could give Amazon workers the chance to push back against their quotas.

Assembly Bill 701 passed on Wednesday, and says warehouse workers don’t have to meet quotas that are high enough to prevent staff from taking breaks or going to the bathroom. Workers also don’t have to comply with quotas that force them to skirt health and safety, the bill says.

If the bill becomes law, it will force companies to be more transparent about quotas. It states that companies can’t punish workers for meeting quotas they weren’t told about.

If it becomes law, warehouse workers would be able to request quota data from employers, and demand quotas be lowered if they interfere with breaks and staff safety. Workers who lose their jobs for not meeting targets could also appeal their termination.

The bill must be signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom before becoming law.

While the bill does not specifically name Amazon, it is geared towards checking the power of the tech behemoth. Amazon workers have spoken out repeatedly about the speed they’re expected to work at, with some saying they’re treated like robots.

When assembly member Lorena Gonzalez introduced the bill, she said rising workplace injury rates was due to “online retail giants like Amazon subjecting their workers to debilitating work speeds and relentless production quotas.” She also said that “Amazon manages their workers’ productivity through a system of constant surveillance, which often results in workers having to compromise safety rules to keep up with their debilitating quotas.”

Amazon did not immediately respond when contacted by Insider for comment.

Leaked company data obtained by Reveal last year also showed Amazon’s injury rates were significantly higher in its robotic warehouses, where production quotas rose by as much as 300%. Amazon said Reveal had misinterpreted the data and that the company “obsess[es] about our employees and their safety.”

An undercover UK reporter working in an Amazon warehouse said workers peed in bottles because they were too pressed for time to go to the bathroom. Amazon disputed the reporter’s account – although it has since admitted it is aware of drivers urinating in bottles to hit their quotas.

The obscurity of Amazon’s productivity-monitoring systems has also been cited as a problem by workers.

While Amazon workers are generally aware of their quotas for how many items they need to process, Amazon monitors their productivity using other metrics, including “Time off Task” (TOT), which measures how much time workers spend away from their station.

Catherine Highsmith, a worker at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse, told Insider in March that workers were not told how much TOT they had racked up, or how close they were to getting reprimanded as a result.

“You have no way of knowing – only the process assistants and managers are the people with access to those metrics and can see your time off task,” she said.

The Verge in April 2019 obtained documents showing the company terminated hundreds of employees at one facility over the course of a year for not meeting productivity expectations. The documents also showed Amazon workers were tracked using automated systems that could terminate employees.

In response to the Verge’s piece, Amazon said that, “in general, the number of employee terminations have decreased over the last two years at this facility as well as across North America.”