(c) 2021, The Washington PostJay Greene

Lawmakers are increasing pressure on Amazon for policies they say are causing injuries and job indignities in its massive and growing warehouse operations.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, on Thursday sent a letter addressed to the chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), urging the agency to investigate “Amazon’s systemic failures to provide adequate protections” for its warehouse employees who are pregnant. The letter cites cases in which Amazon did not modify work tasks or did not allow reasonable time off, in possible violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the letter sent to EEOC President Charlotte Burrows. Five other senators, including Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, also signed Gillibrand’s letter.

“Amazon has been notified, and it has not resolved these issues,” Gillibrand said in an interview with the Washington Post. “One of America’s largest employers is not taking enough responsibility.”

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

The request to investigate comes at a time when lawmakers are pressuring Amazon to better protect its employees on other fronts. On Wednesday, the California State Senate passed a law restricting the use of productivity quotas in warehouses, a practice Amazon uses in its operations at its facilities.

“If the company is not going to protect its workers, we must intervene,” said Lorena González, the Democratic lawmaker who drafted the measure. The bill will now go to the state Assembly, which approved a draft version in the spring. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has not indicated whether he supports the measure.

The New York State Legislature is considering a bill that clarifies the rules to ensure that workers are not punished for reasonable absences, such as family leave. And the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries cited Amazon in May for dangerous working conditions at one of its DuPont warehouses, denouncing the productivity quotas that Amazon imposes and how they allow very little time for workers to recover from. heavy workload.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the wave of efforts to legislate or regulate productivity quotas it imposes on its employees.

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“We do not impose excessive productivity quotas,” Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders in April, in which he addressed issues of job security. “We impose productivity quotas that are achievable and that take into account the seniority and performance data of the employees.”

The company has previously said it spent more than $ 1 billion on wellness measures in 2020, including expanding a program that offers guidelines for stretching, meditation and nutrition, as well as purchasing protective gear for its staff. in the effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It has also previously referenced the hiring of more than 6,200 employees for its occupational health and safety team.

Much of the new efforts are focused on exposing the productivity pressure on the e-commerce giant. The company tracks the productivity of its employees by computer, showing them how many items they have stored, picked up or packed in an hour. Employees have complained for many years about pressure to “meet the quota.” Failure to meet those quotas can lead to managers reprimanding workers, a blemish on their records that can make it difficult for them to move forward or can even result in their being fired.

Although other warehouse companies have used performance metrics, Amazon has digitized the effort down to the last detail and aggressively developed it on a massive scale.

Since the beginning of last year, Amazon has hired more than 500,000 employees globally, most of whom work in its warehouse and delivery operations. The company is the second largest employer in the nation, after Walmart, employing 950,000 people in the United States.

“There is greater awareness of how technology has been used to confuse and mislead workers and to strip them of their most essential protections,” said Dina Bakst, co-chair of A Better Balance, an advocacy group that has helped pregnant women file lawsuits against various companies, including Amazon.

Gillibrand’s letter to the EEOC cites one such case, in which a pregnant employee working at an Amazon warehouse in Oklahoma accused the company of denying her request to transfer to a less demanding position as a protective measure against her. high risk pregnancy. Gillibrand said she is particularly concerned about the impact the company’s ongoing performance appraisal has on workers.

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“It’s Orwellian,” Gillibrand said. “You have Big Brother looking over your shoulder.”

Critics have said that Amazon’s productivity metrics are too burdensome, resulting in injury to workers. A Post investigation into workplace injury figures collected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in June found that, since 2017, Amazon was the warehouse operator with the highest rate of serious injury incidents that resulted in employees having to absent from work or be relocated to less demanding positions.

The current version of its bill would force warehouse giants like Amazon to transparently disclose the productivity targets it demands of its workers. The measure would also prohibit them from requiring productivity quotas that could result in workers missing break times required by state law or unable to use the bathroom when necessary. The new law would also prohibit the use of productivity metrics that force workers to violate state health and safety laws.

“We must equip workers with tools that allow them to protect themselves,” González said. Irrational performance expectations were one of the reasons that led employees at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, to find a way to organize a union a few months ago. The effort failed in April when employees overwhelmingly voted against unionization by a margin of more than 2 to 1. But those workers are expected to get a second chance to vote after a hearing officer from the National Relations Board. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Amazon inappropriately pressured warehouse workers to vote against organizing the union. The Atlanta NLRB regional director, who oversaw the elections, is expected to issue a final ruling that could set a date for the second ballot as early as this month.

Author Information:

Jay Greene is a reporter for the Washington Post focused on the area of ​​technology in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

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