New York State adopted a new law called the Warehouse Worker Protection Act which requires distribution centers to disclose work speed quota information to current and former employees.
The new law goes into effect on Feb. 19 and is aimed at preventing warehouse workers from being subjected to work quotas that are believed to be so demanding that they are considered risks to the safety and health of the employees that are subjected to them.
New York joins other federal and state government efforts in taking sides with unions against Amazon.com in promoting organizing campaigns aimed at the company’s warehouse workers.
Tom Erickson, Teamsters Local 120 president and director of the Teamsters Warehouse Division, said, “Enacting this legislation will end Amazon’s shady practice of managing its New York warehouse workers by secret algorithm, but more still needs to be done. Going forward, lawmakers everywhere need to understand the damage this company is doing to their constituents and our communities.”
Unions have tried hard to organize Amazon’s DCs for years, but they have made only small progress. Amazon largely blunted the threat by raising wages and adopting sweeping safety measures in 2021
Recognizing that about 40% of its workers’ injuries are related to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), at that time Amazon developed algorithms to automate staffing schedules, rotating employees around jobs using different muscle-tendon groups to decrease repetitive motion and protect staff from MSD risks.
Amazon says it invested more than $300 million in various safety projects, including a $66 million in creating technology that will help prevent collisions of forklifts and other types of industrial vehicles. Amazon said it also initiated improved safety training and created wellness and mindfulness programs for employees.
Unimpressed, OSHA recently charged Amazon with violations at fulfillment centers in Florida, Illinois and New York State, and is investigating three other facilities in New York, Colorado and Idaho. Charges claim a high rate of MSD injuries
OSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor Douglas L. Parker said, “Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety, and they resulted in serious worker injuries. Our hope is that the findings of our investigations inspire Amazon and other warehouses to make the safety and health of their workers a core value.”
Amazon currently faces a total of $60,269 in proposed penalties for these violations. It also was cited in December for 14 recordkeeping violations. The penalties could rise substantially under a new practice adopted by OSHA.
New York’s WWPA is similar to a California law enacted last year that is intended to protect warehouse workers from unreasonably demanding work quotas by requiring DCs to disclose work speed data to all current and former employees to inform workers about how their performance is measured and evaluated, and help them learn about their rights in the workplace.
The California law, which went into effect at the beginning of 2022, does not permit a work quota that prevents compliance with meal or rest periods required by state law, the use of bathroom facilities (including reasonable travel time to and from bathrooms), as well as preventing compliance with health and safety standards.
The New York law applies to employers with 100 or more employees working at a single warehouse or DC and those with 500 or more employees at one or more warehouse DCs. Workers covered by include non-exempt and non-administrative employees who are subject to a quota.
The WWPA defines a quota very specifically, according to attorneys working for the law firm of Goldberg Segalla.
It defines a quota as a work standard where employee is assigned or required to perform at a specified productivity speed; or a quantified number of tasks, or to handle or produce a quantified amount of material, within a defined time period.
The law says a quota also occurs when an employee’s actions “are categorized between time performing tasks and not performing tasks, and the employee’s failure to complete a task performance standard or recommendation may have an adverse impact on the employee’s continued employment or the conditions of such employment.”
Employers are required to provide each employee with a written description of the quota that is being imposed and any potential adverse employment action relating to it. When the quota changes, the employer must supply an updated description in two days. When an employee is disciplined, they also must be provided with information about the quota.
The WWPA protects workers from adverse actions because of a failure to meet undisclosed speed quotas or quotas that do not allow for proper breaks. It also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees exercising their rights under the law.