The breakable items were the worst — dishes, glasses, picture frames. Her heart sank when she heard them rattling as the two conveyor belts, one at ankle height and one at waist height, continuously glided by.

Yesenia Barrera’s job at the Amazon warehouse was to remove individual items from boxes, scan them, prep them for delivery, place them in a tote and then carry them 10 feet away to another conveyor belt.

Fragile goods had to be encased in bubble wrap; liquids had to be wrapped in plastic to prevent spills. Those extra steps slowed her down, making it hard to meet her quota of processing 100 items an hour.

“My body was having to rush to do everything right,” said Barrera, 23, who worked at an Amazon fulfillment center in Rialto (San Bernardino County) from mid-2018 until she was abruptly let go in January 2019 for too much “time off task,” although she said she never received any warnings. “I was lifting items off the conveyor belt, bending and twisting a lot. It took a toll.”

Now a proposed California law, Assembly Bill 701, would clamp down on warehouse speed quotas, saying they cannot jeopardize health and safety, such as by impelling workers to take risky shortcuts or to skip mandatory rest breaks. It would ban penalties and retaliation related to productivity rates. It also would force warehousing companies to detail their quotas to employees and regulators, and create legal paths for employees to challenge working conditions.

The first-of-its-kind bill is aimed at all warehouse distribution centers, but Amazon is clearly the main target. Both of California’s legislative bodies passed AB701, but Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t said if he will sign it by the Oct. 10 deadline. “The bill will be evaluated on its merits,” his office said in an email.

The pandemic has been a boon to e-commerce giant Amazon, now the nation’s second-largest employer after Walmart with 950,000 U.S. workers and a plan to hire 125,000 more for warehouse and transportation jobs, which were recently boosted to start at $18 an hour.

Behind the scenes, rapid delivery of Amazon orders involves warehouse workers who must process goods quickly or risk being disciplined or fired. Some say they must skip restroom breaks and suffer on-the-job injuries in the frantic pace to “make rate.”

Barrera, who earned $15 an hour as a “seasonal worker,” meaning she had no benefits such as insurance or sick time, said she often skipped personal needs such as using the restroom — a five-minute walk away — or getting a drink of water.

She also dreaded the heavy items — cases of soda, multipacks of detergent, sacks of dog food, weights for working out.

“I was usually at the back of the line, so I ended up with the boxes everyone else was avoiding— heavier items and ones that took longer to prep,” said Barrera, now an organizer with the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, which tries to improve working conditions in the industry and supports AB701.


https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Does-Amazon-s-need-for-speed-hurt-warehouse-16468236.php