OLYMPIA — Washington warehouse workers would gain basic safety protections in an effort to prevent increasing on-the-job injury rates, under a bill filed today by Sen. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma).
SB 5891 would prohibit quotas that prevent workers from being able to go to the bathroom or taking meal or rest breaks. It would also require that businesses are honest and transparent about quotas with workers and safety regulators.
“Warehouse workers in highly automated settings are being injured at higher and higher rates as companies push them to work faster during the pandemic,” said Conway, vice chair of the Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee. “This bill would ensure that they can’t be set up for injury with unreasonable quotas.”
Each worker would receive a written description of his or her quota, including the quantified tasks to be done within a defined time period, any potential adverse employment action that could result from failure to meet the quota, or bonuses and incentives for meeting or exceeding the quota.
These protections would apply at all large non-agricultural warehouses, including those owned by Amazon, the second-largest private employer in the U.S. Amazon is the largest private employer in Washington, with more than 80,000 employees in the state.
Warehouse employers with 100 or more employees at a single warehouse distribution center or 1,000 or more total employees at distribution centers in the state would fall under the law.
Reporting by the Seattle Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2020 led to an investigation by Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries, resulting in a citation for a violation of workplace safety rules and a mere $7,000 fine.
Washington Post reporting based on OSHA data shows that one of the highest injury rates in the country is at Amazon’s DuPont warehouse, where the rate of serious injury increased from 7.2 cases per 100 workers in 2017 to 23.9 in 2020. Amazon’s 2020 average in all warehouses across the country was 5.9, while Walmart’s average was 2.5.
“This is a similar approach taken recently in California, so we’ll have better information to avoid occupational injuries,” said Conway. “Preventing injuries has benefits for everyone—first and foremost for workers, and also for companies that see fewer workers miss time. It could also potentially reduce worker’s compensation premium rates.”
In addition, SB 5891 requires that safety committees made up of employees of covered employers meet at least quarterly and that the employers pay workers for the time they spend in those meetings.
The bill is scheduled to receive a public hearing on January 27 in the Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee.