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New protections for Washington warehouse workers take effect soon

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(The Center Square) – New protections for warehouse workers will take effect in Washington, but opponents of the law change call it unnecessary and duplicative to protections already in place.

Proponents of the measure, which takes effect on July 1, argue it’s necessary as some warehouse workers are subject to quotas at the expense of their own wellbeing.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Beth Doglio, D-Olympia, who said in a February public hearing of the House Labor and Workforce Standards Committee, “Quotas that change without notice are causing career ending disabilities, so this bill just requires some transparency around production standards.”“Workers should be able to comply with speed standards without fear of discipline over taking bathroom breaks and it’s a bummer that we have to address this in a bill,” said Doglio.

Testimony during the February hearing included Donald Guzman, a former Amazon Fresh employee.

“I worked for 2.5 years for Amazon Fresh,” he said. “I experienced firsthand the unsafe work rate performance production standards.”

Guzman called Amazon Fresh “the most unsafe work environment” he had ever experienced.

“Safety equals slow rate, so managers drove speed over accuracy and created such a constant amount of errors in their system that the only way to make up for time was to speed up the humans that were on the line,” he said.

He told lawmakers that Amazon Fresh managers would give tougher workloads to particular employees, and lighter workloads for others.

“There were power-hours where gift cards were the incentive and power-hours sent workers into a frenzy mode,” said Guzman. “I’ve never felt more unsafe than every day I worked at Amazon Fresh.”

In response to the allegations made by Guzman, Amazon spokesperson Maureen Lynch Vogel sent the following statement to The Center Square:

“We’re following up on the allegations here, but the fact is, the views of a few do not reflect the experiences of the more than 750,000 frontline Amazon employees in the U.S. The safety and health of our employees is, and always will be, our top priority, and we’re proud of the progress we’ve made – including reducing our U.S. recordable incident rates by 28% since 2019, and the rate of serious injuries that require time off by 75%. We’re improving year over year, and we won’t stop until we’re best in class.”

She added that Amazon doesn’t have fixed productivity quotas for employees in its operations network.

“Amazon is already taking actions outlined in the legislation and will comply with the law.”

The company’s recently released workplace safety report says:

Our Lost Time Incident Rate (LTIR)—which includes any work-related injury that requires someone to take time away from work (the most serious injuries)—has improved 60% over the past four years and 16% YoY.

Bob Battles, Association for Washington Business director of government affairs testified against the bill in the same February hearing.

“Concerns about performance metrics should be between the employer and the employee. They are already communicated and all these folks know what expectations are, and there’s already rules about meals and restroom breaks, and if those aren’t being given the employer can be cited,” said Battles.

Battles warned that the measure could affect the supply chain.

“There isn’t an item that you folks get, unless you grew it in your garden that didn’t pass through a warehouse,” said Battles. “The state shouldn’t be interfering with the day-to-day relationships regarding those expectations.”

The legislation says Labor and Industries will investigate employees’ complaints and can initiate its own investigations. The agency can assess civil penalties, based on the initial and successive violations of the law, ranging from $1,000 for the first violation and up to $10,000 per successive violation.