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Amazon strike highlights strikingly different takes on working conditions inside Shakopee facility

The rally, which was organized by three Somali-American women, drew well over 100 supporters, including a bevy of elected DFL officeholders, representatives from local labor unions and even Amazon tech workers from Seattle. 

Amazon strike
The rally, which lasted the afternoon, drew well over 100 supporters, including a bevy of elected DFL officeholders, representatives from local labor unions and even Amazon tech workers from Seattle.
MinnPost photo by Joey Peters

By the time a severe thunderstorm hailed down at the end of an otherwise sweltering Monday afternoon, the opposing sides to an hourslong protest across the parking lot from Amazon’s fulfillment center in Shakopee both declared victory. 

“We create a lot of wealth for Amazon, but they aren’t treating us with the respect and dignity that we deserve,” Safiyo Mohamed, one of the rally organizers, said in a statement after the rally. “We are so happy for all the support from the community and from Amazon workers across the world.

Meanwhile, an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement that only 15 of the Shakopee warehouse’s 1,500 workers left the job to participate in the strike and faulted “an outside organization” for using the company’s Prime Day “to raise its own visibility,” spread “misinformation” and use “political rhetoric to fuel media attention.”

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The rally, which lasted the afternoon, drew well over 100 supporters, including a bevy of elected DFL officeholders, representatives from local labor unions and even Amazon tech workers from Seattle. It was organized by three Somali-American women, including Mohamed, who work at the warehouse and are pushing for changes like lowered quotas and more full-time employees. The Awood Center, which advocates for the rights of East African workers in Minnesota, also helped organize the rally. 

Organizers chose Prime Day, one of Amazon’s biggest sales and deals promotions, for the strike. 

The lead-up to the strike drew national attention, with vocal support from Democratic Party presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as media coverage from outlets like NPR, Bloomberg and the Washington Post. 

Organizers were hoping around 100 warehouse workers would walk off the job Monday and strike for the afternoon. Local Amazon workers who did show up blamed a depressed worker turnout on an increased presence of Shakopee police officers and company safety workers monitoring the warehouse entrance and parking lot.

“There are managers, supervisors and police that are standing at the front gates and front doors, and [workers] are scared to come out because of that,” Mohamed Hassan, who assembles packages in the warehouse, told a crowd gathered at the rally through an interpreter. “And I’m sad for that.” 

Indeed, at least six police officers and 14 safety workers were stationed near the warehouse entrance as evening fell and the facility’s evening shift change began. Tyler Hamilton, a picker who has worked at the Shakopee warehouse for nearly two years, said he usually sees one or two safety workers and no cops during this time on busy days. Hamilton, who didn’t attend the strike but said he spent his shift inside “helping remind people” about it, called the increased security presence “very intimidating” to workers inside the factory.

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“Everybody here knows it’s not normal,” he said.

Brenda Alfred, a spokeswoman for Amazon, confirmed that the beefed-up security and police presence was because of the rally. “With the activity that we were prepared for or anticipating, we have folks that are absolutely monitoring what’s going on in the property to ensure everyone is safe,” Alfred said. 

Workplace conditions ‘not sustainable’ 

Perhaps the biggest grievance of workers who did show up for the strike was their high quotas. Hassan, for example, said he must move at least 84 packages an hour during the workday. Some of these packages can get heavy — from 80 to 100 pounds, he said — and he faults the pace for causing injuries to his wrists. 

“If you need to use the bathroom, because you’re so fearful of the break, minutes are counted against you, then you have to hold [it] because of that,” Hassan, who is in his 50s, said through an interpreter.

Mohamed Hassan
MinnPost photo by Joey Peters
Mohamed Hassan, left, who assembles packages in the warehouse, told a crowd gathered at the rally through an interpreter, right, that he must move at least 84 packages an hour during the workday.
Hamilton, who is in his 20s, said warehouse workers have to be in good health to do their jobs. His job is to pick items off a shelf and put them on a conveyor belt — 330 times an hour. “But you have to go faster than that, because inevitably things will interrupt it,” he said.

If a conveyor belt malfunctions, for example, Hamilton said it “will bring your rate down, so you have to go above your actual quota, especially if you want to use the bathroom or something like that.” 

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Meg Brady is a re-binner in the warehouse who showed up to the rally. Her job consists of taking an item off a conveyor belt and putting it into a cubbyhole 600 times an hour to make rate. She faults the job with giving her tendinitis in her left ankle. The workplace wouldn’t grant her worker’s compensation for the injury — they claimed it wasn’t workplace-related, Brady said — so she worked through it and developed a stress fracture. 

After that, she had to wear a boot, which prompted her to take short-term disability for the past two months. Brady said she gets $340 a week on disability and hopes to return to Amazon in a few weeks. “This is really not sustainable, the work we’re doing here,” she said.

A different narrative

Amazon’s public relations team presented reporters covering Monday’s strike with a different narrative. They emphasized that warehouse workers make between $16.25 and $20.80 per hour. Alfred said that 75 percent of the workforce is able to meet their quotas, and added that Amazon offers coaching to those having trouble. Inside the warehouse, workers high-fived each other under a balloon arch at the entrance during shift change. 

“That’s how Prime Week looks,” Khasin Abdi, an area manager at the warehouse, told MinnPost. “If you go to Target and it’s the holiday season, there’s a lot of customers and it’s very busy. But here, it’s just another day, just with more flavor to it.”

Abdi said the grievances listed at the rally were not something he’s experienced. 

Michael Lawes, another warehouse worker made available to reporters by the Amazon PR team, said the quota goals are “very attainable” and that he’s able to take a 30-minute break during each shift. Lawes works as a picker. 

“It’s a great place to work,” Asli Mohamed, another worker who stocks products, said. “Prime Week — they make it real fun.” 

Abdi, Lawes and Mohamed all said they could not understand why some workers were choosing to strike.