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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL)

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Minn. House passes legislation supporting safety, health, and economic security of workers

Monday, March 28, 2022

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the Minnesota House approved a sweeping package of safety protections for workers at Minnesota warehouses, including at Amazon facilities. Additionally, lawmakers approved legislation guaranteeing Earned Sick and Safe Time for all Minnesota workers, as well as a bill approving worker contracts for Minnesota state employees.

The House approved legislation authored by Rep. Emma Greenman (DFL - Minneapolis) to protect and empower Minnesota’s warehouse workers and to address practices that have led to high injury rates at Amazon facilities. Amazon subjects their employees to quotas that change frequently and often aren’t disclosed. Employees report having to work at a grueling pace and being unable to take breaks to eat, go to the bathroom, or pray. The intense pace and pressure to meet high quotas endangers warehouse workers. According to a report by the National Employment Law Project compiled with assistance from the Awood Center, one of nine workers at Amazon warehouses in Minnesota is injured on the job. This annual injury rate is four times the injury rate for all workers in private industry, and more than double that of non-Amazon warehouses in the state. 

“Work shouldn’t hurt. But for far too many Minnesotans working in Amazon’s warehouses under their pioneering system of surveillance and discipline - it does. Amazon has failed to live up to their promise to provide our state with safe and reliable jobs,” said Rep. Greenman. “We are listening to warehouse workers and acting to protect the Amazon workers now, and to ensure that their dangerous, high-tech model does not spread to other warehouses and other industries where it could injure more Minnesotans. Passing this bill is a necessary step towards ensuring all Minnesotans are safe in the workplace.”

The legislation applies to Amazon and other large companies that operate a warehouse distribution center with more than 250 employees. It requires these corporations to provide warehouse workers with written notice of all quotas and performance standards they are subject to and how they are measured. The information must be provided in the worker’s preferred language. In addition to sharing this information with new employees when they’re hired, employers must notify workers two days before any modifications take effect. The bill stipulates that employers can’t fire or take disciplinary action against a worker who fails to meet a quota that wasn’t disclosed. 

The bill also gives warehouse workers access to their own work speed data. Workers may request the past 90 days worth of data, and their employer is obligated to share it with them in their preferred language. The same information must be shared with any worker who is disciplined or fired for failing to meet a quota. 

In addition to addressing the quota system, the legislation includes measures to ensure warehouse workers receive breaks and to improve worker safety. Under this legislation, employers cannot require workers to meet quotas that prevent them from taking required breaks for meals, restroom breaks, or prayer. Quotas also can’t prevent compliance with state OSHA standards. 

The legislation directs the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to open an investigation into warehouses with an annual injury rate 30 percent higher than the average rate for Minnesota’s warehouse industry to determine if they are in compliance with these provisions. The employer will be required to hold monthly safety committee meetings until the injury rate at the warehouse in question drops below that level for two consecutive years.

“When people ask me about working at Amazon, I say that it is like you are trying to hold an 18-wheeler and the driver is going to accelerate,” said Mohamed Mire, a former Amazon warehouse worker. “We’re fighting against machines, but we cannot win because we are human. I have seen many injuries because of the pressure from Amazon.” 

The House also approved legislation authored by Rep. Liz Olson (DFL – Duluth) to require Minnesota employers to provide workers Earned Sick and Safe Time. The legislation would ensure, at a minimum, one hour of paid Earned Sick and Safe Time for every 30 hours worked, up to at least 48 hours per year. Upwards of 900,000 Minnesota workers, including two-thirds of workers in the lowest wage positions, lack access to paid time off when they or a family member are ill or need to go to a doctor’s appointment. 

“We asked a lot of Minnesota workers during the pandemic to keep our state moving forward. We also asked people to stay home when they’re sick, but far too many Minnesota workers, including those who already earn the least, don’t have access to paid time off,” Rep. Olson said. “Expecting workers to choose between getting healthy and getting paid is simply wrong. Earned Sick and Safe Time is the solution our state needs to ensure everyone can have the fundamental ability to take care of themselves or a loved one if they get sick.”

Earned Sick and Safe Time can be used to attend to physical and mental health needs – including illness, injury, or a doctor’s appointment – for workers and their family members. Absence following domestic abuse or sexual assault, if a job site is closed, or if a family member’s school is closed are also eligible uses. Sixteen states have adopted similar policies guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers, as have numerous cities including Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Duluth.

The House also approved legislation ratifying the 2020-21 Minnesota Law Enforcement Association contract and the 2022-23 contracts with AFSCME, MAPE, Middle Management Association, the State Residential Schools Education Association, Minnesota Nurses Association, and employees covered under the compensation plans (such as the Managerial Plan and Commissioners Plan). The MLEA contract includes a 2.25% across the board increase in FY20, a 2.5% increase in FY21, and incorporates legislative increases that were passed last session.

The other agreements include 2.5% across the board increases for state employees in both FY22 and FY 23. The agreements submitted by Minnesota Management and Budget cover nearly 39,000 individuals who work across state government serving the citizens of the state. The bill also ratifies contracts and plans for approximately 4500 Minnesota State employees and faculty.

“Minnesota has amazing State Workers who have carried a very heavy load during this Covid journey,” said Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL – North St. Paul), chair of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations. “Minnesota has continually been one of the best-run states in the nation because of them. It's time we have the backs of the over 39,000 employees who have had ours for so long.” 

Video recording of today’s floor debate can be found on the House Public Information Services’ YouTube channel.