On the Picket Line

Minn. Somali Amazon workers fight speedup, discrimination

By Brian Williams
December 17, 2018

East African workers, most originally from Somalia, employed at Amazon’s 20-football-field-long warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, are leading a fight against jacked-up packing quotas. They have forced the company to negotiate. Some 60 percent of Amazon’s warehouse workers in the area are East African.  

They are demanding the company reverse its decision to increase the packing quota to at least 230 items an hour, up from 160. Other issues include dehydration, exhaustion, and job injuries, as well as Amazon’s insensitivity to Muslim prayer practices. 

They are inviting everyone to join them is a public protest at 3:30 p.m., Dec. 14, outside the Fulfillment Center at 2601 4th Avenue E, in Shakopee. Meanwhile, Amazon workers in Germany, Spain, Italy and the U.K. organized strikes on Black Friday, Nov. 23, demanding increased wages, improved working conditions and the right to unionize.  

Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days of the year worldwide. From Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, shoppers ordered a record 180 million items from Amazon.  

Those bearing the brunt of all this are the workers employed in the company’s gigantic warehouses, which Amazon euphemistically calls fulfillment centers. They face relentless speedup, unsafe conditions, miles of Rube Goldberg-like conveyor systems, thousands of robots roaming all over the place, all in a drive to make workers work harder and faster. 

Demanding they not be “treated as robots,” workers in the U.K. protested outside five major Amazon warehouses Nov. 23. Chants included, “next-day delivery should not mean a lifetime of pain for Amazon workers.”  

Over 600 workers struck in Germany the same day, walking out of warehouses in the towns of Bad Hersfeld and Rheinberg, according to Reuters. In Vercilly, Italy, managers were left to try and pack boxes after workers walked out of an Amazon facility there.  

Workers at Amazon’s biggest warehouse in Spain, San Fernando de Henares, struck Nov. 23-24. The action left “only two people to staff the loading dock,” reported Vox website, and orders had to be frantically diverted to the company’s other depots in the country.