More than 100 Amazon warehouse workers in Shakopee plan to strike for four hours on the e-commerce giant’s Prime Day next week to demand better work conditions.
The work stoppage is planned for 2 to 6 p.m. Monday — the first day of Amazon’s popular Prime Day online sales event.
A community rally including workers, supporters and elected officials also is planned outside Amazon’s “MSP1,” the larger of its warehouses in Shakopee, according to the Awood Center in Minneapolis. Amazon’s 885,000-square-foot fulfillment center employs more than 1,500 workers.
The participating Minnesota workers — many of them Somali, East African and Latino immigrants — will join co-workers from Seattle in the work stoppage, which is designed to disrupt Amazon’s biggest shopping days of the year, Awood officials said. The Prime Day sales event offers steep discounts to fee-paying Prime members and this year will be held Monday and next Tuesday.
Amazon officials said they do not expect disruptions next week as a result of the workers’ plans. A spokesperson noted that most Shakopee workers are not planning to strike and that other fulfillment centers across the country stand ready to ensure a smooth workflow.
Awood Executive Director Abdi Muse said the planned work stoppage is part of employees’ continued push for safe and reliable jobs for the predominantly East African workforce.
Muse said the speed required of workers in Shakopee is not safe.
“As Amazon continues to speed up work and demand more from warehouse workers, it is hard for everyone. People are getting hurt or quitting because they are afraid,” Muse said.
Workers planning to strike want the right to organize and for the pace to slow down to reasonable speeds. They also want better advancement opportunities, quicker transitions from temporary to full-time worker status and are calling on Amazon to address critical issues like climate change, organizers said. Minnesota employees are expected to be joined by several Amazon technology workers from Seattle who have been lobbying the company to improve its environmental efforts and to do more to fight climate change.
Awood was formed to advocate for the Shakopee workers. The nonprofit’s backers include the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Amazon spokeswoman Brenda Alfred said the work requirements are reasonable.
“Amazon’s work culture is one that strives to ensure fair and safe working conditions,” Alfred said in an e-mail. “The fact is Amazon offers already what this outside organization is asking for. We provide great employment opportunities with excellent pay — ranging from $16.25-$20.80 an hour — and comprehensive benefits including health care, up to 20 weeks parental leave, paid education, promotional opportunities and more.”
She invited those who question the company’s work conditions to “see for themselves by taking a tour of the facility.”
In recent years, tensions between Amazon and its immigrant Minnesota workforce have developed. About one-third of the 1,500 workers at its Shakopee fulfillment center are of East African descent, with another large percentage being Latinos. Meetings between Amazon managers in Minnesota and their workers took place during most of last year with mixed results.
In December and in March, 100 Amazon employees and supporters protested outside the Shakopee warehouse, alleging unequal wages, work conditions that induced miscarriages and retaliation against those who complained. In past interviews, company officials denied the complaints.
In May 2019, three Somali-American female employees in Shakopee filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing Amazon of violating their civil rights by passing over East African workers for promotion and failing to accommodate Muslim employees’ religious needs, especially during Ramadan. The complaint said the retail giant regularly retaliated against workers who protested workplace discrimination.
Tyler Hamilton, an Amazon inventory “picker” hired 18 months ago, said he will be on the picket line on Monday. He has seen co-workers injure backs and legs on the job. Some were struck in the head by falling boxes. One of his co-workers walked into a pillar because he was exhausted after a day meeting aggressive production quotas.
“It can be hard to pay attention when you get worn down,” Hamilton said.
Quotas vary depending on the task, Hamilton said. Some positions require pickers to snatch 300 to 400 products an hour from inventory. Other workers must hand sort 1,000 to 1,200 items an hour. Failing to keep up can cause you to be fired, he said.
Muse added that it is particularly hard “for people who practice the Muslim faith to keep up with the backbreaking work when you aren’t eating during Ramadan. These jobs need to be well-paid but also need to be ones where people aren’t afraid to take a short break so they don’t get hurt.”