July 15 kicks off a sort of three-day Black Friday for Amazon Prime customers: Prime Day. Shoppers get primo deals on a bunch of products, Amazon gets a big boost in sales ($4.19 billion’s worth last year), and the company’s shipping centers churn out the deliveries as soon as possible.
That’s why the Awood Center, a group that advocates for East African workers, is planning its own special event at Amazon’s Shakopee facility: a six-hour strike. Strikers will also gather with some of their white-collar counterparts from Seattle outside the warehouse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. that day.
Shakopee has become the heart of a massive labor movement primarily led by immigrants from Somalia and other nearby countries. Its workforce includes about 1,500 full-time employees, almost a third of them from East African.
For the past year and a half, it’s been the site of multiple protests and demonstrations for workers’ rights, including a 100-person protest in mid-December and a late-night walk-out in March.
Their demands have remained pretty much the same throughout. They want “better working conditions,” more “opportunities for advancement," and “respect” for “workers and their right to organize.” The employees coming in from Seattle will also be pushing for Amazon to “address [its] role in climate change crisis.”
“As Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos continue to make record profits, workers are facing increasingly unstable jobs,” Awood’s event description says. The organization wasn’t immediately available for interview requests.
So far, strike organizers told Bloomberg, they’ve had some success getting the company’s attention and earning themselves some small gains. They managed to get Amazon to ease up on workers’ quotas when they’re fasting for Ramadan, and to get a conference room designated as a prayer space. But they say the company’s productivity standards are still too harsh and put their health and their jobs at risk.
“No one can meet this intense rate of demand,” warehouse worker Mohamed Hassan told City Pages after the March walkout. “Amazon treats us like robots. They just keep pushing us.”
Amazon sent a statement saying the company “already offers what this outside organization (Awood) is asking for,” including “excellent pay” ($16.25-$20.80 an hour) and “comprehensive benefits” like “promotional opportunities.”
“We encourage anyone to compare our pay, benefits, and workplace to other retailers and major employers in the Shakopee community and across the country – and we invite anyone to see for themselves by taking a tour of the facility.”
As Bloomberg pointed out, striking during a major Amazon shopping day is fairly commonplace in Europe, but stateside workers haven’t attempted it until now. Regardless of whether Amazon decides to play ball, Americans striking during Prime Day sets a new precedent for the company run by the world’s wealthiest man.