California bill takes aim at Amazon’s productivity-tracking algorithms

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California is poised to pass a new bill pushing back against the productivity measurement algorithms allegedly used in Amazon fulfillment centers, as recently reported by NPR’s Morning Edition and The New York Times. The bill passed California’s lower legislative chamber in May, and the upper chamber is expected to vote on it next week. If passed, the bill would place new transparency requirements on automated quota systems, and block any such systems that could endanger the health and safety of workers.

Introducing the bill in July, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) cited a Verge report that found “hundreds” of Amazon warehouse employees had been fired for failing to meet productivity quotas at a single facility in Baltimore over the span of just over than a year. Associated documents showed a deeply automated system to track individual employees’ productivity rates.

“To make next-day delivery possible, corporations like Amazon have forced warehouse employees to work faster, service more customers with more orders in record amounts of time, and risk their own bodies in the process,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said in a statement introducing the bill. “No worker should be forced to sacrifice their basic human needs, or accept such undignified conditions for a paycheck. We cannot accept this as the new future of work.”

Amazon has not publicly taken a position on the bill, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.

The text of Gonzalez’s bill does not name Amazon, but simply requires all warehouse employers in the state of California to give workers access to the details of any quota used to measure them. Specifically, employees can request “a written description of each quota to which the employee is subject, including the quantified number of tasks to be performed, or materials to be produced or handled, within the defined time period, and any potential adverse employment action that could result from failure to meet the quota.”

The bill would also block any quota system that prevents meal and rest breaks, or use of the bathroom.

Bathroom breaks are a particularly sore point for Amazon after the company’s high-profile fight over anecdotal reports that the company’s delivery drivers had been forced to pee in bottles while on the job. Amazon initially denied the reports, which resulted in dozens of drivers sharing their own experiences and difficulties taking bathroom breaks while on the job. However, most of the concern over bathroom breaks has focused on delivery drivers, who would not be subject to the Gonzalez bill.



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