Skip to main content

California passes law targeting Amazon labor algorithms

California passes law targeting Amazon labor algorithms


Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill this week

Share this story

Illustration of Amazon’s wordmark in an orange and black bull’s-eye.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Wednesday that would block Amazon and other companies from punishing warehouse workers who fail to meet certain performance metrics for taking rest or meal breaks. The California Senate approved the measure earlier this month.

The law allows warehouse workers to challenge performance goals that many say discourage them from taking bathroom breaks or other rest breaks throughout the work day. The bill was written in response to high rates of reported injuries at Amazon warehouses where performance quotas are algorithmically enforced.

“The bill is the first attempt to create transparency and protections”

The law does not explicitly name Amazon in its text, but both Republican and Democratic lawmakers recognize that the e-commerce giant would be greatly affected by the enactment of the legislation. Over the last few years, Amazon has come under intense criticism for its performance quotas with several outlets reporting that workers have peed in bottles as a means of meeting their warehouse fulfillment goals and maintaining their jobs. 

The law will also force companies like Amazon to make these performance algorithms more transparent, disclosing quotas to both workers and regulators. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.

Still, supporters of the new law have presented it as a breakthrough against algorithmic monitoring of workers generally. “The bill is the first attempt to create transparency and protections against unsafe algorithmic-enforced quota systems used by corporations like to push warehouse workers’ bodies to the breaking point,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D) said in a tweet earlier this month.

Business groups have come out in opposition of the bill, suggesting that it would harm the industry by empowering employees to file lawsuits that could be costly and time-consuming for companies. 

Updated 9/23/21 at 3:08PM ET: Changed headline and body text to reflect the bill was signed into law.