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House sends warehouse worker safety bill to Senate on party-line vote

Work shouldn’t hurt. But working conditions at Amazon warehouses in Minnesota are unacceptable.

So claims Rep. Emma Greenman (DFL-Mpls), who sponsors HF36, an attempt to counteract the high rate of worker injuries seen at these workplaces.

“All Minnesota workers deserve to be safe and respected at work,” she said. “[This bill] protects Minnesota warehouse workers by updating our worker safety standards with commonsense notice and transparency requirements.”

On Monday the House majority agreed, passing the bill, as amended, via a 69-60 party-line vote. The measure now moves to the Senate.

The bill would establish new worker safety requirements for the warehouse industry. Among them would be clear communication of quotas to workers; prohibition of quota requirements that would deny workers meal, restroom, or prayer breaks; and affirmation of workers’ rights to access data related to their speed and performance.

These labor standards would take effect at companies employing 250 or more workers at one warehouse, or 1,000 or more workers across multiple warehouses in Minnesota.

The Department of Labor and Industry would be empowered to investigate potential violations of these standards at warehouses shown to have a 30% higher injury rate than the industry average and $206,000 would be appropriated to the department to support enforcement efforts.

Greenman brought forth the sole successful amendment.

It would provide a precise definition of “aggregated employee work speed data,” clarify which warehouse workers would be covered by the safety standards, and delete the severability section.

Rep. Harry Niska (R-Ramsey) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to delete language affirming a worker’s right to sue their employer for an alleged violation of the bill’s safety requirements. He expressed concerns that this language would open the floodgates for frivolous lawsuits.

Rep. Isaac Schultz (R-Elmdale Township) summed up the essence of Republican opposition, arguing the bill represents the “heavy hand of government making us less competitive,” and cautioned against passing these industrywide regulations when Amazon appears to be the only bad actor in the state.

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