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Balance Your People and Profits: Cal Bill Pushes Amazon, Walmart, and Other Big E-Retailers

Gonzales said she authored AB 701 to help decrease worker injury, encourage more transparency, and end the use of production quotas at corporations and government agencies, which critics say contribute to low job satisfaction and harmful working conditions.

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Amazon Warehouse Worker, Photo Courtesy of California Black Media

Last week, warehouse workers, labor leaders, elected officials, and community groups came together on the steps of the California state Capitol. Their goal was to generate public support for California’s pro-worker “Warehouse Workers Protection Act,” – also called Assembly Bill (AB) 701– and to encourage the state Senate to pass it.

“Working in warehouses for corporations like Amazon has quickly become one of the most dangerous jobs in the private sector,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) asserted, placing giant e-retailers square in the scope of her target.

In the United States, e-commerce is skyrocketing, growing from a $441.51 billion industry in 2017 into a market valued at $759.47 billion in 2020. Amazon.com has the largest market share (about 40%) among leading e-retailers, followed by Walmart (about 7%) and eBay (about 4%).

Gonzales said she authored AB 701 to help decrease worker injury, encourage more transparency, and end the use of production quotas at corporations and government agencies, which critics say contribute to low job satisfaction and harmful working conditions.

“Workers are risking their bodies to guarantee same-day delivery and being pushed to the point that many can’t even break long enough to use the bathroom. There is no excuse for a company to prioritize customers’ convenience and their own profits over the safety of their workers,” said Gonzales.

In March 2020, Irene Tung and Deborah Berkowitz released a National Employment Law Project (NELP) report titled “Amazon’s Disposable Workers: High Injury and Turnover Rates at Fulfillment Centers in California.”

According to the study, “Workers who can’t keep up extreme productivity goals are fired or encouraged to quit.”

“Amazon workers around the country have reported being subject to unsustainably fast productivity requirements resulting in injury and exhaustion. Workers describe pushing their bodies to the brink to avoid automatic termination for missing quotas,” the NELP report stated. “Data from the company’s own records have confirmed their accounts showing that Amazon warehouses have stunningly high injury rates.”

Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), chairperson of Assembly Labor Committee; state Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), chair of Senate Labor Committee; state Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles); and chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) all attended the rally.

Jones-Sawyer said his 19-year-old son worked at Amazon this past summer before heading off to college in Colorado. He got sick and had to take time off work. When he returned to work, after three weeks he was fired.

“Unfortunately, he saw all the bad things about working in a factory,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer said he attended the rally for his son.

“So that’s why I am here, not only for my son but all the other sons who don’t have fathers who could speak up for them,” he said. When it comes back to the Assembly for concurrence, I will stand up, speak up and vote for it again.

The language in AB 701 directs the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to establish new standards by Jan. 1, 2023, that are “designed to minimize the risk of injuries and disorders among warehouse employees who are subject to production quotas.

The California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber) labeled AB 701 “job killer legislation” in April and criticized it as one of “23 legislative bills that would place California employers and the state’s economy in harm’s way” should it become law.

“(AB 701) threatens warehouse employers with duplicative costly litigation by creating a new, independent private right of action, and a representative action under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), for failing to comply with vague standards,” CalChamber said in a statement. The organization is the largest business advocate in California.

In California, Amazon warehouses are in counties whose populations are “overwhelmingly people of color,” according to the NELP study. Combined, nearly 75% of warehouse workers are minorities. Of that number about 55% are Latinos and about 9% are Black.

If passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, AB 701 would require employers to inform employees about quotas that corporations and organizations set to measure their performance.

The legislation requires employers to quantify work employees are expected to do.  They must explain specific tasks and how meeting those goals may affect their job standing.

“AB 701 also directs the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to establish new standards by Jan. 1, 2023, that are “designed to minimize the risk of injuries and disorders among warehouse employees who are subject to production quotas.”

The bill also prohibits an employer from taking disciplinary action (including firing) against employees for failure to meet quotas that have not been disclosed to them. In addition, the legislation prohibits quotas that do not allow a worker to comply with meal or rest periods or occupational health and safety laws.

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Bay Area

IRS Extends Filing Dates in Counties Under Federal Emergency Declarations

The announcement affects residents in Alameda, Marin, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Monterey, Napa, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties, the IRS said.

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Eligible taxpayers will also have until May 15 to make 2022 contributions to their IRAs and health savings accounts.
Eligible taxpayers will also have until May 15 to make 2022 contributions to their IRAs and health savings accounts.

By Katy St. Clair, Bay City News Foundation

The Internal Revenue Service has extended its annual tax return due date by a month for people who live in areas impacted by the recent storms, the IRS announced on Tuesday.

California storm victims now have until May 15 to file their individual or business taxes if their area was declared an emergency by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The announcement affects residents in Alameda, Marin, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Monterey, Napa, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties, the IRS said. A full list of counties can be found at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-relief-in-disaster-situations.

Eligible taxpayers will also have until May 15 to make 2022 contributions to their IRAs and health savings accounts.

Taxpayers will not have to do anything to initiate the extension, the IRS said, and do not have to contact the agency to get this relief.

Some other extensions are being granted to farmers, those who pay quarterly estimated payments, and those who pay quarterly payroll and excise taxes. To learn more, go to irs.gov.

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Bay Area

City Fails to Win $182 Million Federal Grant for Oakland A’s Howard Terminal Project

Opponents said the lack of a recommendation by the U.S. Department of Transportation “shows the lack of credibility — likely based on concerns over safety, economic viability, disruptions to port traffic and supply chains, echoed by maritime stakeholders — for the future of the project with key public transportation and political stakeholders that should prompt an overall re-evaluation.”

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A city document suggests $600 million will be needed for offsite infrastructure.
A city document suggests $600 million will be needed for offsite infrastructure.

By Keith Burbank | Bay City News

Oakland may miss out on millions of dollars in grant money that could advance the Oakland A’s proposed ballpark at the city’s port.

The U.S. Department of Transportation failed to recommend that Oakland get $182.9 million in the initial round of funding for the city’s Waterfront Mobility Project. Oakland has not received official word that it was denied the grant money.

The city has been securing dollars for the offsite infrastructure needed to support a new ballpark at the Charles P. Howard Terminal.

“While we are disappointed to have not been selected in the first round, we believe we put forward a strong application and are well positioned to secure other funding sources,” said Fred Kelley, director of the Oakland Department of Transportation. “We will continue to pursue other funding sources to ensure our projects have the resources they need.”

Oakland applied for grant money through the Mega Grant Program, which funds “large, complex projects that are difficult to fund by other means and likely to generate national or regional economic, mobility, or safety benefits.”

The ballpark proposed by the Oakland A’s would seat about 35,000 people, and the development overall consists of new housing, parkland, an entertainment venue and commercial space.

Not everyone wants the A’s to build a new park at the Port of Oakland. Groups have come together in opposition, hoping to have the A’s build a new park in East Oakland at the current Oakland Coliseum site.

Groups led by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association sued to stop Oakland from issuing a required environmental impact report for the proposed ballpark.

The opponents said the lack of a recommendation by the U.S. Department of Transportation “shows the lack of credibility — likely based on concerns over safety, economic viability, disruptions to port traffic and supply chains, echoed by maritime stakeholders — for the future of the project with key public transportation and political stakeholders that should prompt an overall re-evaluation.”

A city document suggests $600 million will be needed for offsite infrastructure. The city has secured or is in the process of securing more than $320 million of that money, according to city documents published in December.

Former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was a strong supporter of the project.

New Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said at her inauguration Monday that she will work with the Oakland A’s on a deal to keep the team in Oakland while protecting Oakland values.

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Activism

California Family Whose Beachfront Properties were Seized 100 years ago, Sells Land Back to County for $20 Million

In the 1920s, the beach resort was extremely popular with African American tourists. At that time, Black people were not permitted on white beaches. The site became famously known as “Bruce’s Beach.” The children and grandchildren of Charles and Willa Bruce fought for decades to get back the land.

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Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell commemorate the signing of State legislation to return the land to the closest living heirs of the Charles and Willa Bruce. Credit / County of Los Angeles.
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell commemorate the signing of State legislation to return the land to the closest living heirs of the Charles and Willa Bruce. Credit / County of Los Angeles.

By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire

The great-grandchildren of the African American couple Willa and Charles Bruce, whose land in Southern California was taken in 1924 and returned to the family last year, have opted to sell it back to the local government for $20 million.

In the 1920s, the beach resort was extremely popular with African American tourists. At that time, Black people were not permitted on white beaches.

The site became famously known as “Bruce’s Beach.”

The children and grandchildren of Charles and Willa Bruce fought for decades to get back the land.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, a family historian and spokesman for the Bruce family, stated in a 2021 interview, “It was a very significant location because there was nowhere else along the California coast where African Americans could go to enjoy the water.”

The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists often threatened the Bruce family, but they kept the resort open and took care of the land.

In 1924, the municipal council used eminent domain to take the land to build a park.

But, according to a TV show called “The Insider,” the area wasn’t used for many years.

Willa and Charles Bruce fought back in court, but their compensation was only $14,000. In recent years, local officials have estimated the property’s value to be as high as $75 million.

The area contains two coastal properties and is currently used for lifeguard training.

Janice Hahn, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, revealed that the family would sell the property back to the local government.

Hahn stated that the price was set through an appraisal.

Hahn stated, “This is what reparations look like, and it is a model I hope governments around the country would adopt.”

The statement made by Hahn may or may not be exactly what the Bruce family desired in addition to the restitution of their land.

In 2021, Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce, told The New York Times, “An apology would be the least they could do.”

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