US Senate Democrats Smith and Markey to advance bill to improve warehouse worker safety • Georgia Recorder

This story has been updated with a statement from an Amazon spokesperson.

WASHINGTON — Two Democratic U.S. senators announced Thursday that they plan to introduce a bill that would require large companies to inform their workers about their quota practices and prevent those quotas from having a negative impact on workers' health.

“The Warehouse Worker Protection Act would end the most dangerous quotas that plague warehouses,” said Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, one of the bill’s sponsors.

There is no published text of the law yet.

Markey said the bill would require companies to inform their workers of the quotas they must meet and would ban quotas that rely on 24/7 monitoring or are likely to result in violations of health and safety laws. He added that companies that do not comply would be investigated by the Labor Department and face fines and penalties.

Injuries at Amazon

Outside the U.S. Capitol, Markey was joined by workers who shared their stories of workplace accidents at Amazon warehouses, as well as Minnesota Democratic Senator Tina Smith and Sean O'Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Smith said that large companies like Amazon care about “efficiency, cost savings and maximizing their profits.”

“They are making record profits while at the same time hurting the people at whose expense they make their profits to a completely unacceptable extent,” she said.

Speakers specifically pointed to Amazon's quota practices, which put workers at risk. However, Markey said the Seattle-based e-retail giant is not the only company using a quota system that harms workers.

“While Amazon leads the pack with an injury rate twice the national average, the other major warehouse companies are close behind,” he said.

Amazon's quota practices include constant monitoring to measure how many items a worker scans, with workers below a certain percentage automatically flagged, and monitoring how long employees take for bathroom breaks and other “releases,” according to a report released Thursday by the National Employment Law Project.

The injury rate in Amazon's warehouses is “twice the average for all private sector industries, and each year tens of thousands of warehouse workers suffer serious injuries that require medical treatment,” the report said.

O'Brien said Amazon's business model “pushes workers to the brink and creates a culture of fear.”

“Warehouses can be very dangerous workplaces if safety is not a priority,” he said.

Wendy Taylor, an Amazon worker in Missouri who is a union activist, was injured at work in March.

“I was injured at work because Amazon demands inhumane wages and my colleagues and I have a strenuous daily routine of physical labor,” she said.

Taylor said she fell and injured her knee, but when she went to the company's medical center, “they refused to let me see a doctor when I asked and sent me back to work,” she said.

She eventually went to her own doctor, who diagnosed a torn meniscus in her knee.

“This experience (shows) how difficult it is to get timely, appropriate medical treatment from a company that is destroying my body and accelerating my aging process just to increase shareholder profits,” she said.

An Amazon spokesperson in a written statement refuted some of the senators' comments, including claims that workers were not given adequate bathroom breaks and were subject to fixed performance quotas.

“It's a common misconception that Amazon has fixed quotas, but we don't,” the spokesperson said. “Our Time Logged In policy checks whether employees are actually working while logged in to their workstation. Our employees can see their own performance at any time and speak to their manager if they have trouble finding the information.”

The spokesperson also said that the claim that Amazon's injury rate is twice the industry standard was misleading.

“Many large companies that should be included in these comparisons – companies like Walmart, Target and Costco – report almost all of their injuries under different OSHA reporting categories,” the spokesman said.

Brian Wild, a spokesman for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, said in a statement that the industry group does not support the bill because it could lead to delays and price increases.

“The bill contains provisions that inappropriately favor union leaders over workers and employers by requiring labor organizations to participate in investigations and essentially giving union leaders the ability to potentially pressure or bully workplaces under the guise of 'worker safety,'” Wild said.

Seeking cross-party support

Markey said there is bipartisan support for the bill in both the Senate and the House.

“We just want to expand this,” Markey said. “It shouldn't be a Democrat or Republican issue, it's a worker safety bill.”

Last year, a law protecting warehouses went into effect in Minnesota, but advocates have expressed concern that Amazon will not comply with the law.

Several other states, including California, New York, Oregon and Washington, have passed laws similar to those proposed by Markey and Smith.

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