The Awood Center — a Minneapolis-based workers' group that has garnered nationwide attention for its push for better working conditions at Amazon's Eagan and Shakopee facilities — has joined a newly formed national coalition aimed at contesting Amazon's growing market power and carbon footprint, among other issues.
Dania Rajendra, director of the New York-based coalition Athena that was publicly announced Tuesday, praised Amazon workers who have mobilized through Awood as "the courageous first in American worker pushback against the abuses of this corporation."
Awood, which represents East African workers, is one of 40-plus groups that are part of and helping to fund Athena, which is also supported financially by George Soros' Open Society Foundations and the Wallace Global Fund.
The coalition brings together a wide swath of a growing number of Amazon critics who have been raising concerns about everything from antitrust issues to digital surveillance to the working conditions in the company's fulfillment centers.
"We're a diverse coalition of people of color and immigrants, LGBTQ folks, working-class people across the country — everyone whose communities and livelihoods are affected by Amazon, plus advocates, policy experts, academics, activists and small-business owners," Rajendra said. "Together, we're focused on making our democracy represent us all and creating a more healthy, sustainable and inclusive economy. And Amazon and other large corporations like it are in the way of that goal."
United for Respect, a group that has pushed Walmart to improve its pay and benefits for workers, also is part of the coalition, as are some of those involved in the resistance to Amazon's search for a second headquarters. In a rare retreat for the online retailer, Amazon earlier this year pulled out of a plan to open a New York City campus after facing community backlash.
In a statement, Amazon painted a very different picture of itself as a good corporate citizen that has created hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the U.S. and offers "leading pay and benefits," including a $15 minimum wage.
"Self-interested critics, particularly unions and groups funded by our competitors, have a vested interest in spreading misinformation about Amazon, but the facts tell a different story," the company said.
To draw awareness to its efforts, Athena plans to conduct several rallies and forums in the coming days across the country with some events timed to coincide with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The event in Minneapolis, on Monday night, was a forum organized by Awood and sponsored by several unions. The focus was on issues facing East African workers.
At the forum, a couple of Amazon workers said they want the company to form a safety committee at its Eagan and Shakopee sites that would include workers who could suggest ways to reduce workplace injuries.
Ahmed Jama, 20, who works at the Eagan delivery station, said injuries are a growing concern, noting that an ambulance was required just the day before when a worker collapsed.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company already has a safety committee in place that is open to all employees.
Through a series of protests and walkouts over the last year and a half, some workers at Amazon's Twin Cities facilities have been raising complaints about everything from parking restrictions for workers to the speed employees must work, which they said often leads to injuries.
Citing internal injury-rate data, an investigative report published over the weekend by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that serious injury rates — at 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers, compared to the industry average of 4 — at Amazon's fulfillment centers are more than double the national average for the warehousing industry.
According to the report, the Shakopee facility had 270 injuries in 2018, an injury rate of 12.8 per 100 workers.
An Amazon spokeswoman responded that its injury rates were high because it is aggressive about logging incidents and is careful about allowing workers to return to work following injuries.