When consumers flock to Amazon next week to capitalize on the tech giant’s biggest sale of the year, many of the company’s warehouse workers plan to generate a different kind of buzz.
The planned work stoppage comes as Amazon draws increasing attention in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail in connection with issues tied to corporate taxation, market competition and labor.
Last month, The Washington Post reported that the company could face heightened antitrust scrutiny after U.S. regulators agreed to give the Federal Trade Commission greater supervision over Amazon’s business practices.
And this year, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for the breakup of Amazon and other tech companies that she says have grown too big and powerful. Other Democratic candidates for president have seized on tech industry criticism, highlighting concerns over monopoly power and corporate concentration.
(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Amazon says that the company already provides what employees are demanding. “We provide great employment opportunities with excellent pay — ranging from $16.25 to $20.80 an hour, and comprehensive benefits including health care, up to 20 weeks parental leave, paid education, promotional opportunities and more,” Amazon said in a statement Monday. “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.”
The workers plan to strike for six hours across two shifts July 15, according to the report. They also plan to rally outside the facility. The workers, many of them Muslim immigrants from East Africa, previously have protested to call attention to their working conditions. They were able to spur some changes last year, the report said, including the easing of work quotas during the month of Ramadan and gaining dedicated space at work to pray.
Abdirahman Muse, executive director of the Awood Center, a group that advocates for East African workers, said that Amazon workers in Minnesota have been pushing to get their demands heard for almost 18 months.
“Instead of real progress on issues like safe and reliable jobs, respecting and promoting East African workers and addressing issues like climate change, they’ve been facing retaliation in the workplace,” he said. “In order to show that they won’t wait around any longer in the face of these injustices, workers decided to go on strike on Prime Day to show they are serious about achieving a voice on the job to win the things families in Minnesota and across the country deserve.”
Safiyo Mohamed, an Amazon employee in Shakopee who has been with the company for two and a half years and plans to protest next week, said her primary concerns are reducing harsh productivity quotas and better treatment for workers who are burned out from the job. “We are hoping Amazon will listen to us, will respect us and will [meet] our demands.”
Last year, thousands of Amazon workers in Europe held a strike on Prime Day calling for better working conditions, health benefits and pay. Prime Day, which was created five years ago, has grown into a major discount event, garnering billions of dollars in sales for the retailer and prompting competitors such as Target to launch online summer sales of their own. Target’s event, dubbed Deal Days, will fall on the same two-day period as Amazon’s.
Protest organizers have tried to use the summer sale to underscore the labor conditions at the company, which is valued at close to $1 trillion. Employees in the United States have also attempted to unionize for years, in addition to calling for backup day-care benefits and higher wages. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another White House contender in 2020, recently called on the company to improve its work environment following a report from the Daily Beast that detailed dozens of 911 calls made from Amazon facilities.
Amazon must recognize that workers' rights don't stop at the minimum wage.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 11, 2019
Amazon must significantly improve working conditions at its warehouses and respect the constitutional right of its employees to form a union and bargain collectively for a better life. https://t.co/Mds9hfbwU3
Sanders, a vocal critic of the company, proposed legislation last year that would force large employers such as Amazon to cover the cost of food stamps and other federal assistance given to its employees. But after the introduction of the bill, named the “Stop BEZOS Act,” Amazon announced that it would raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.