Amazon Prime Day Strike: Workers say no to overwork and discrimination
Amazon workers in Shakopee, Minn., demonstrate in June 2018. | Awood Center

SHAKOPEE, Minn.—Amazon Prime Day is becoming Amazon Strike Day. Amazon is forcing its workers at its monster warehouse in Shakopee, Minn., to walk out again. The 1,500 workers, one-third of them migrants and refugees from Somalia and other nations of East Africa are walking off the job for six hours today, July 15.

That’s the first of the monster distributor and retailer’s two Prime Days when it makes loads of money through deep discounts on televisions, toys, clothes, and more. The event is expected to rake in up to $6.1 billion in revenue for the company, according to some analysts. That would be a $2 billion improvement over last year’s Prime Day.

Prime Day is also when Amazon cancels all vacation time and other breaks for warehouse workers, forcing excessive speedups and workloads to get products out the door.

The causes that forced the workers to walk: The speedups, the high workloads, and Amazon’s refusal to promote temps it hires to full-time jobs, as warehouse traffic demands. One group of workers will walk out during the last three hours of the day shift, through 6 pm. The second group will stay out during the first three hours of the following night shift.

And that could put a crimp in Amazon’s business. The Prime Days are when Amazon uses steep discounts on selected items to entice more buyers to sign up for paid subscriptions to Amazon’s “Prime” service. As members, they get free shipping and access to media content. The big price cuts and free shipping on Prime Days are where the warehouse workers come into the picture. Demand goes way up, and Amazon orders them to satisfy it, all in the name of corporate greed.

Like other monster companies, Amazon is run by a capitalist class—in this case, Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person, and his managers—that as a business practice exploits vulnerable workers, women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and others to line its pockets. The capitalist practices, in turn, widen the income and wealth gap between the rich and the rest of us.

So Amazon’s Shakopee workers are forced to toil extra hours, often in unhealthy conditions, to fulfill those orders. When they complain, Amazon illegally retaliates against their leaders, forcing the workers and their reps at the non-profit Awood Center, which serves East African and other Somali migrants, to file labor law-breaking charges, formally called unfair labor practices.

This is not the first time Amazon forced its Shakopee workers to walk. Late last year, they staged demonstrations as winter approached in the downtown Twin Cities to protest untenable working conditions. That walkout occurred in subfreezing weather. In March, the workers had to walk over low pay and Amazon’s refusal to accommodate their religious practices.

Amazon raised workers’ pay and increased some benefits. It says that’s enough. But Awood, which receives help from the Service Employees International Union, also lodged a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission over the religious discrimination. The warehouse’s East African and Somali workers are Muslims, and Amazon at first refused to lighten their workloads during Islam’s holy daylight-hours fasting month, Ramadan. That refusal is illegal under U.S. civil rights laws.

So with that history, it’s no surprise Amazon forced its workers to walk again. But the workers are using the leverage of the firm’s Prime Days to achieve maximum impact and publicity.

As before, the workers want better working conditions, more opportunities for advancement, and respect on the job. They also want Amazon to recognize their right to organize. The pro-worker engineers joining them from climate-conscious Seattle demand Amazon also recognize—and ameliorate—its contributions to global climate change.

“As Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos continue to make record profits, workers are facing increasingly unstable jobs,” Awood says. The workers also hate the mandated speedups and high packing quotas, a key characteristic of Prime Days.

“No one can meet this intense rate of demand” to pack and ship goods, warehouse worker Mohamed Hassan told the alternative paper City Pages after the March walkout. “Amazon treats us like robots. They just keep pushing us.”

Awood members take part in a discussion with Rep. Ilhan Omar, hosted by the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. Somali workers shared their stories as they fight back against corporate greed to win jobs that are safe, pay enough to care for their families, and respect their communities. | Awood Center

The warehouse workers’ past forced walkouts achieved at least one win—a lessening of the speedups and quotas during Ramadan. They also drew political attention and support, from the Twin Cities all the way up to Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt.

After learning of Amazon’s practices, Sanders last year introduced what he calls “The Stop Bezos Act,” and he’s described it during the recent presidential candidates’ debates, though not by that name.

Sanders’ bill would require any corporation which pays its workers so little that they must draw on federal aid such as housing vouchers and food stamps to help survive, to repay the government for the sums it spends. Amazon, Walmart, and McDonald’s are the senator’s prime examples.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is lending her support to the strikers, tweeting out Monday morning: “I fully support Amazon workers’ Prime Day strike. Their fight for safe and reliable jobs is another reminder that we must come together to hold big corporations accountable.”

Warren, also vying for the Democratic nomination, has also proposed breaking up big tech companies like Amazon, saying they have monopoly influence over the market and wield that power for political gain.

The Prime Day strike is also going global. Amazon workers in Germany already started walking out of their warehouses this weekend in anticipation of the discount bonanza. The strikes are being held under the slogan “No more discount on our incomes,” and began Sunday night at company sites in Werne, Rheinberg, Leipzig, Graben, Koblenz, and Bad Hersfeld.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.