Amazon warehouse workers protest against speedup and harassment

By Helen Meyers
July 29, 2019
Workers picket on “Prime Day” outside Shakopee, Minnesota, Amazon warehouse July 15.
Star Tribune/Glen Stubbe via APWorkers picket on “Prime Day” outside Shakopee, Minnesota, Amazon warehouse July 15.

SHAKOPEE, Minn. — “I’m standing up to make things better for my co-workers,” Meg Brady told a protest outside the huge Amazon fulfillment warehouse here July 15. Dozens of Amazon workers were joined by some 300 supporters, many trade unionists from the Twin Cities area.

The rally was called after Amazon announced it will start one-day shipping. This will mean speedup and increased injuries on the job, workers told Socialist Workers Party members and others who joined the action.

They also were protesting the increasing use of temporary workers, unfair write-ups and little consideration for Muslim workers fasting during Ramadan. About one-third of the workforce here are Muslims from East Africa.

Brady, who is not working due to an on-the-job injury, said that less than two years ago she hired in with a group of 70 people. Only five are still working at Amazon. “People say if you don’t like it just go,” she said. “I’m an army veteran, and I say if you want change it’s important to stay and fight.”

The rally was called to coincide with Amazon’s “Prime Day” special sale for those who plunk down $119 a year to join the program. The demonstration was organized by the Awood Center, a community organization that advocates for East African workers. Awood means “power” in Somali. The organization is backed by the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters union and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

‘They think workers can be robots’

“We expected more workers to come out but there were managers, supervisors and police standing at the front doors, and some workers were scared,” warehouse worker Mohamed Hassan told those at the protest through an interpreter. “They think humans can be robots, but we are human, and we are not afraid to stand up for our rights.”

Amazon warehouses are notorious for their use of robots to speed up the work.

Atlas Air pilot Michael Russo from Chicago, a member of the Airline Professionals Association Teamsters Local 1224, represented his local at the protest. Atlas Air carries freight for Amazon. “These stepped-up shipping times come with a price — to the warehouse workers, the pilots, the truckers and the last-mile-delivery guys,” Russo told the Militant.

Prime Day has “become an opportunity for our critics, including unions, to raise awareness for their cause, in this case, increased membership dues,” an Amazon spokesman told Reuters. “These groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favor, when in fact we already offer the things they purport to be their cause — industry leading pay of $15 an hour, benefits, and a safe workplace for our employees.”

Guled Mohamed, who has worked at Amazon as a picker for a year and a half, said he joined the protest “because of the pressure on us to always work fast.” He added, “Amazon needs to treat us better.”

Over 2,000 workers at seven Amazon warehouses in Germany went on strike as Prime Day got underway in a similar protest over pay and working conditions. The strike was organized by the Verdi trade union, under the slogan “No more discount on our incomes.”

Verdi has led other strikes and protests demanding higher pay and that Amazon negotiate a union contract for its 13,000 workers in Germany. The company has refused.