New York has become the second state to regulate warehouse work quotas in an effort to improve working conditions at Amazon facilities.
Gov. Kathy Hochul last month signed the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, which says warehouse workers can’t be forced to hit work quotas that would prevent them from taking meal and rest breaks and using the bathroom. As Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reported in 2019, Amazon workers felt such pressure to achieve productivity targets and escape discipline that some delayed bathroom trips and even developed urinary tract infections. The new law also says employers must provide written notice of quotas and provide productivity data to workers who request it. It’s the latest example of government officials taking action after years of mounting injuries from Amazon’s relentless drive for speed.
Reveal’s investigation into Amazon’s injury crisis helped prompt a wave of state legislation around the country, beginning with a California law passed in 2021. A similar bill in Minnesota failed last year and was reintroduced this month.
The New York law was modeled on California’s, but it has some big differences: The California law bans any quotas that conflict with safety standards and gives workers the right to sue to enforce it. Similar provisions were taken out of the New York bill in the scramble to pass it with limited time, said New York Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos, who sponsored the bill. But Ramos said there will be more bills to come.
“We’re just getting started, baby,” she said. “I can’t let my state become one where we condone high-tech sweatshops.”
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the law is based on a misunderstanding of the company’s practices. Amazon doesn’t have “fixed quotas,” she said: “Instead, we assess performance based on safe and achievable expectations.”
Reveal has documented how Amazon used tracking software to hold workers to specific productivity rates under threat of discipline. Workers, former Amazon safety managers and Washington state safety officials have said it’s that constant pressure to work fast that leads to injuries.
Last month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Amazon for failing to record injuries properly at six warehouses around the country and proposed nearly $30,000 in fines. At a New York warehouse, for example, workers were hurt lifting a heavy box of kitty litter and an inflatable canoe, and another was struck by falling boxes, but Amazon didn’t record the injuries, according to OSHA.
Nantel, the Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement that the citations involved “minor infractions.”
“The safety of our employees is our top priority, and we invest hundreds of millions of dollars every year into ensuring we have a robust safety program to protect them,” she said. “Accurate recordkeeping is a critical element of that program and while we acknowledge there might have been a small number of administrative errors over the years, we are confident in the numbers we’ve reported to the government.”
OSHA noted that its investigation, which has stretched to five states, is ongoing. The agency’s inspections were prompted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which is investigating safety hazards related to Amazon’s pace of work and “possible fraudulent conduct designed to hide injuries,” according to a statement. Both issues have been subjects of Reveal’s reporting.
After Reveal documented that Amazon had much higher injury rates than the warehousing industry average, company officials argued the high rates were due to extra-diligent recordkeeping. But Amazon has a history of undercounting injuries and has misled the public about the extent of its safety problems. As we reported in 2020, medical providers at an Amazon-contracted clinic said they were pressured to send injured Amazon workers back to their jobs without appropriate treatment so the company wouldn’t have to count their injuries.
This story was edited by Kate Howard and copy edited by Nikki Frick.