California Bill to Improve Warehouse Conditions Fails to Pass Senate

In February 2020, California State Assembly Members Lorena Gonzalez and Ash Kalra introduced Assembly Bill 3056 for discussion in the California state legislature. The bill’s intended purpose was to modify the California Labor Code to include additional protections for state residents who worked in warehouse distribution centers, with a particular focus on Amazon employees.

While the bill passed the Senate Labor Committee in August and went through several rounds of amendments in both the Assembly and the Senate, AB 3056 ultimately failed to achieve passage on the Senate Floor before the September 1st deadline for legislative actions set by the California State Constitution. However, it’s possible that this bill will reappear in some form or another once the next legislative session begins on December 7, 2020, so it’s worth taking a look at what this bill proposed and what impact it could have on the warehouse industry.

What Would AB 3056 Have Done if it Passed?

Section 1 of AB 3056 declared that most workers in warehouse distribution centers have “quantified performance quotas” that mandate a certain number of tasks to be completed within time periods measured down to the minute or second. This comes as a result of recent technological advancements and changing consumer expectations regarding next-day and/or same-day delivery for online orders. Furthermore, because failure to meet these quotas is often punishable by loss of working hours or even termination of employment, warehouse workers are effectively forced to skip bathroom breaks to ensure that their quotas are met.

In response to this problem, AB 3056 proposed that Part 8.6 of Division 2 of the California Labor Code be amended to expressly forbid warehouse distribution centers from counting reasonable amounts of time taken by employees to use the restroom, rehydrate, take legally mandated breaks, and/or document or report Labor Code violations against the time needed for them to complete their quota. This law would have applied to any establishment defined by the North American Industry Classification System Codes as meant for General Warehousing and Storage (493110), Merchant Wholesalers for Durable (423) or Nondurable (424) Goods, or Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Houses (454110).

Had the bill been signed into law, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement would have been responsible for enforcing this new provision of state law. Violations would have been punishable by civil penalties against the infringing employer of $250 per impacted employee for a first-time violation, and $1,000 per impacted employee for any subsequent violations.

What the Future May Hold for Warehouse Workers and Employers

Every warehouse strives to maximize productivity, so it is certainly not hard to believe that some businesses mandate paces of production that negatively impact the health of their workers. However, while this legislation is well-intended, the disproportionate effect that it might have on smaller warehousing businesses compared to retail giants like Amazon is likely part of the reason why it failed to become California state law in 2020.

Still, the fact that this bill was proposed in the first place proves that the safety and wellbeing of warehouse workers is becoming a greater priority for lawmakers in certain states. Warehouse managers can expect that trend to continue, so it may be worth preemptively considering where changes can be made in smaller operations to preserve the health of workers while also maintaining a competitive pace of production.