Shakopee workers demand safety, solutions from Amazon

Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar leads protesters in song outside the Amazon warehouse in Shakopee.

Amazon workers in Minnesota escalated their campaign for better jobs today, rallying with U.S. Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar outside the company’s Shakopee distribution center at the height of the holiday shopping season.

Omar told Amazon workers she came to Shakopee to show support for their demands and to amplify their voices.

“I am excited that you recognize your power,” she said. “Amazon doesn’t work if you don’t work… And it’s about time we make Amazon understand that.”

Workers at the facility, mostly East African immigrants, are demanding safer conditions, and they want Amazon, the world’s largest internet retailer, to devote a portion of its local profits toward efforts to reduce economic disparities and lift up communities of color in the region.

“We are human beings,” Amazon worker Khadra Qassim told over 100 people gathered outside the distribution center. “You cannot treat us as robots.”

Qassim is among a large contingent of Amazon workers in Minnesota who have joined the Awood Center, a worker center based in the Twin Cities’ East African immigrant community. Members have met twice with Amazon management this fall — a first-of-its-kind accomplishment for warehouse workers in the U.S. — but say the company has so far failed to meet their most pressing demands.

In response, workers called today’s rally, which took place during a shift change inside the facility.

The action was spirited and mostly upbeat. A crowd assembled across the parking lot from the warehouse, and it put up a cheer as workers exited the building after finishing their shifts and walked toward the protest. Many raised fists in the air or clapped their hands eagerly as they made their way, and several embraced co-workers and friends waiting for them at the rally.

But the mood shifted quickly as, one by one, workers took the bullhorn to describe the conditions they face on the Amazon warehouse floor.

Khadra Hassan was pregnant when Amazon hired her to work at the distribution center. Despite the company’s assurances it would accommodate her condition, she injured herself carrying a large package and began bleeding on the shop floor. To make matters worse, Hassan said, she was still in the probationary stage of employment, so she had no health insurance benefits.

“Thank God my daughter survived and I had a baby girl,” Hassan said. But another injury, she added, has kept her out of work since September.

The workers’ ranks swelled with supporters from labor unions, faith groups and other community organizations. The company is a “highly impactful employer” in the global economy, said Monica Bielski Boris, director of the University of Minnesota’s Labor Education Service. That means even workers who aren’t employed by the company have a stake in the employment conditions Amazon sets — or, perhaps someday, the contracts its workers negotiate.

Unionizing won’t be easy, though. Amazon makes little effort to hide its hostility toward collective bargaining. That’s what makes the Shakopee workers — who are targeting the company directly, publicly and fearlessly — so impressive, Bielski Boris added.

“It’s very inspiring,” she said. “It makes me proud to be a Minnesotan. Hopefully, it inspires other Amazon workers around the world to demand greater accountability from Amazon too.”

After the program workers walked together to the front door of the warehouse and tried to deliver their demands to Amazon, but they were blocked by police from entering. As of now there are no further negotiation meetings set between the two sides.

Comments

  1. Can we order our Union cards online?

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