Are your warehouses safe? Proposed ‘intrusive’ bill wants to make sure

WASHINGTON – Last week, three U.S. Senators introduced the Warehouse Worker Protection Act to address dangerous warehouse quota systems that encourage higher work speeds and lead to more injuries. The bill comes at a time when the topic of Boeing plane malfunctions and mishaps have been at the center of conversation around the globe. Boeing has been called out several times for favoring “speed over quality.”

U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), all members of the Senate Labor Committee, introduced the Warehouse Worker Protection Act alongside workers and union leaders, including Teamsters Vice President Tom Erickson – the first Minnesota Teamster to take international office in over a decade – and Ladell Roberts, an organizer with Teamsters Local 120 in Blaine, Minn. The legislation would protect warehouse workers by prohibiting dangerous work speed quotas that lead to high rates of worker injuries.

Large companies seek to maximize profits by using quota systems that push workers to their physical limits, resulting in high injury rates that can be permanently disabling,” the office of U.S. Senator Tina Smith said in a release. “A new report released by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and other worker groups demonstrates that one in 15 Amazon workers sustain injuries. Amazon represents 79% of large warehouse employment but 86% of all injuries. Recent data shows also that more than half of workers reported that their production rate makes it hard for them to use the bathroom at least some of the time.”

“When workers have the power to come together and organize for better working conditions and safer workplaces, we all do better,” said Senator Smith. “These big companies hold a lot of power, and with their productivity metrics and quotas, they are literally controlling the lives of workers minute by minute.

“With this bill, we are saying, enough. We’re putting accountability back in this system and power back in the hands of workers subjected to systems that drive profits for billionaires while they wring workers dry.”

What the WPA means

Although the bill sounds like it addresses topical concerns, the National Retail Federation issued a statement expressing concern over what this means for the manufacturing industry.

After members of Congress announced their plans to introduce the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, NRF Executive Vice President of Government Relations David French said, “Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have consistently shown that warehouse workplaces are safe workplaces. NRF member companies are continually investing in better practices, more modern equipment and innovative employee engagement efforts to make these workspaces as safe as possible.

“Despite that, this legislation would overturn decades of employment and labor law, erode employers’ private property rights and unjustifiably expand the federal government’s intrusion into American workplaces.”

French continued: “The bill mandates that OSHA promulgate an ergonomics standard, despite a 2001 law passed by bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress that permanently barred OSHA from regulating ergonomics for numerous reasons, including the impossibility of separating workers’ pain from away-from-work life activities, a lack of clear scientific evidence to support such a standard and the massive costs. There is no new rationale for undoing Congress’ prohibition, and NRF strongly opposes this bill.”

In the official statement, the NRF clarified that it “will continue to advocate for workplace rules that promote workplace flexibility and economic growth.”

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