New York Enacts Warehouse Worker Protections Targeting Amazon

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a bill into law Wednesday that aims to crack down on stringent warehouse work quotas at companies like Amazon.

The law, known as the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, requires distribution centers to disclose work speed data to their employees so they better understand their productivity rate and the company’s expectations. It also bars companies from firing workers because they failed to meet quotas that weren’t transparent or didn’t allow enough time for rest and bathroom breaks.

The law applies to any company with a large distribution center in the state, but the most obvious target is Amazon. The Seattle-based online retail giant is the largest employer of warehouse employees in the country. Workers have long complained about the pressure to “make rate” and avoid discipline as they pick, pack and ship orders to customers.

Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement that the bill was “based on a misunderstanding of our business performance metrics.”

“Amazon does not have fixed quotas at our facilities. Instead, we assess performance based on safe and achievable expectations and take into account time and tenure, peer performance, and adherence to safe work practices,” Nantel said.

Hochul said in a statement that she was proud to be signing the bill into law just ahead of the holidays, the busiest period of the year for many warehouses as retailers like Amazon fill a crush of orders.  

“Every worker in New York state deserves to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect,” Hochul said.

The New York law mirrors another bill signed into law in California last year. That legislation was the first of its kind in the country to be explicitly aimed at warehouse work quotas.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed the new warehouse worker law on Wednesday.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed the new warehouse worker law on Wednesday.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed the new warehouse worker law on Wednesday.

The new law in New York had the support of the Amazon Labor Union, which formed the first Amazon union in the U.S. on Staten Island earlier this year, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a New York-based union that has tried to organize an Amazon facility in Alabama. 

A recent analysis from the union coalition known as the Center for Strategic Organizing found that Amazon’s injury rate was twice as high as other non-Amazon warehouses. Last week the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it was issuing citations to several Amazon facilities for failing to properly record injuries and report them to OSHA. 

Those OSHA inspections came about due to a referral from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which is investigating workplace safety practices at the company.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who sponsored the New York bill, called it “the first step in addressing rampant injury in a quickly growing job sector.”

“We have made sure that corporations like Amazon and UPS can’t wring all the profits they can out of their employees, leaving the workers to deal with their injuries,” Ramos said in a statement.

New York lawmakers are also pursuing a new bill to end “at-will” employment for many workers. To fire a worker, an employer will need to demonstrate “just cause,” such as worker misconduct or the economic need for layoffs. A similar law is already in effect for fast-food workers in New York City.

This story has been updated with comment from Amazon.