New law requires transparency about Amazon’s quota algorithms

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill last week aimed squarely at Amazon's labor dystopia.

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A new bill signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom last week will ban megacorporations from setting algorithmically determined warehouse production quotas on their human labor force. While not named specifically in the legislation, the move is evidently certainly aimed directly at Amazon, whose models are blamed for a host of horrors ranging from on-the-job injuries, forgoing meals, and even workers pissing in bottles to avoid bathroom breaks.

The bill, AB 701, also forces companies like Amazon to disclose “each quota to which the employee is subject” alongside “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."

Employees who believe their expectations are unrealistic or potentially unsafe can request 90 days’ worth of documentation evidencing how they have or have not met said quotas, and actually sue the company if safe, humane conditions aren’t being met. What a concept.

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Impossible to safely meet existing quotas — Amazon’s notorious warehouse labor algorithms have long concerned both its own employees and safety advocates, who have repeatedly sounded the alarm on the company’s unsafe and unreasonable expectations. A recent study courtesy of the union-backed Strategic Organizing Center revealed that Amazon’s “serious injury” rate last year was nearly double the industry standard. Although company reps insist they train and monitor their employees for proper physical movement and package handling, the previous quota expectations make proper safety slow-downs all but impossible.

Slow to change policy — California’s new law is a welcome win for labor advocates and Amazon warehouse employees, but it also shows the limits of what the company is willing to change on its own. Amazon only recently began altering its tune regarding marijuana usage, and is still aggressively pursuing union-busting tactics, regardless of the legal fallout.

That said, California’s new law will hopefully inspire similar measures in other states with sizable Amazon warehouse presences. In the meantime, maybe we can all keep feeding Jeff Bezos’ ego with “oohs” and “aahs” while he repeatedly launches himself into space, but regrettably refuses to stay there.