“Human beings, not robots”: Amazon workers strike in Shakopee, Minn.
Picketers blocked a truck from entering the driveway to the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee. | Minneapolis Labor Review

SHAKOPEE, Minn.—The eyes of the world were on Shakopee, Minn., on July 15, where 30-50 workers at the vast Amazon fulfillment center staged a one-day strike to protest working conditions. The workers’ picket line was joined by a throng of supporters from the local labor movement and other community supporters.

Semi-trailer trucks trying to enter or leave the Amazon property were forced to wait until the 200-plus picketers moved to the sides of the entrances to let them pass. A few truck drivers chose to not cross the picket line and drove away.

Planned by Amazon workers organizing with the Awood Center, the action came on Amazon’s much-hyped “Prime Day,” a day of discounts to encourage shoppers to buy something from the online retailer and become a subscriber to its services. A Facebook meme countered: “I don’t know who needs to hear this…but you don’t need anything from Amazon today.”

The low prices and quick delivery from Amazon come at a high cost to the workers at a fast-paced Amazon fulfillment center, the crowd learned from workers.

Amazon worker Sahro Sharif: “We are striking because we are humans — we are not robots.” | Minneapolis Labor Review

“We are striking… because we are humans—we are not robots,” said Sahro Sharif, the emcee of the rally on the picket line, who has worked for a year at Amazon’s Shakopee fulfillment center as an order picker. “We are tired of Amazon workers being hurt on the job… Keeping up with increased workloads is just too much.”

Injured Amazon worker Meg Brady reported how the fast-paced demands of the work took a toll on her health and her co-workers. When she started working at Amazon 18 months ago, she said, she was part of a group of 70 new staff. Only five people from that group remained, Brady reported. Some people left injured, some couldn’t keep up with the required work pace, and some couldn’t bear the stress, quitting because staying “just wasn’t worth it any longer.”

Brady stayed, she said, “to make it better for me and all my co-workers.” She explained: “If you want to see change, you just don’t go—you stay and you fight… Amazon can do better. Amazon must do better. Management demands the best from their workers. Now we want their best.”

The crowd also heard from Weston Fribley, an Amazon software engineer from Seattle who is an activist with Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. He read a few of what he said were 100 support letters collected in one day from Amazon tech workers in Seattle. “We stand with you,” Fribley said. “Thank you for having the courage to do this.”

“Amazon workers have no voice in decisions that affect our safety and our communities,” Fribley said. “I’m just one software engineer. Acting alone, I will not be heard. That is why I am here—because I am not alone.”

“Those executives in Seattle can’t pack all these boxes by themselves,” Fribley said. “How do we advocate for a better Amazon? Together!”

The rally also heard from Michael Russo, Teamsters Local 1224 member, who works as a cargo pilot for Amazon contractor Atlas Air and is a strike preparation committee chair. Amazon has grown to become the most powerful corporation in the world, Russo noted, adding “Amazon needs to harness that power for good.”

Pilots, drivers, order pickers, packers, “we’re all in this together,” Russo said. “The truth is Amazon needs us in order to make Prime Day a success… We’re all going to keep fighting together until we get the pay and working conditions we deserve.”

“We will not accept the treatment of people — our neighbors, our friends — like robots,” said Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). “We say to corporate greed—it will not stand today, it will not stand tomorrow, it will not stand in the future.”

Many of the workers at Amazon’s Shakopee fulfillment center are drawn from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area’s large community of East African immigrants, 100,000 and growing.

The Awood Center formed in 2017 to organize among East African workers. “Awood” is the Somali word for “power.”

“The workers who are striking today, we are with you,” said State Rep. Brad Tabke, whose district includes Amazon’s Shakopee facility. He was one of several state legislators who turned out to the picket line and rally to support the Amazon workers.

“The workers who are here today—you are inspiring workers around the world,” said State Rep. Aisha Gomez. “All eyes are on us today. Our struggles are connected and our victories will be connected.”

The news media reported earlier this year that Amazon earned $11 billion in profits in 2018 but paid zero in federal taxes, thanks to the Trump tax bill. That $11 billion in profits, “it’s because of the workers, it’s because of working people,” Gomez said. “It’s working people that create the vast wealth that ends up in the hands of a few people like Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder and CEO).”

Amazon’s one-day delivery? “All that comes at a cost. All that is happening at a cost to workers, at a cost to the environment,” said Filsan Abraham, community member.

“They think human beings are robots,” said Amazon warehouse worker Mohammed Hassan, speaking through an interpreter. “They expect you to pack 30-plus boxes during your lunch break,” he said. “Even the minutes you go to the bathroom are counted against you.”

“We were expecting a lot of workers to come out today,” Hassan said, but pointed out that Amazon managers, supervisors, and police in uniform were standing by the front doors watching. “That’s why they couldn’t come out… There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of injustice that’s going on in here.”

Amazon worker Meg Brady, who was injured on the job: “If you want to see change, you just don’t go—you stay and fight.” | Minneapolis Labor Review

As the rally wrapped up, with a storm brewing, Sharif concluded, “We will not be intimidated by Amazon. We are here to fight for what’s right.”

The Shakopee Amazon workers’ June 15 strike saw several Democratic candidates for president posting messages of support on social media for the striking Amazon workers in Shakopee. They included former U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro and Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt.

The following day, 13 members of Congress— led by Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minn., and Sanders—called on the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate working conditions at all of Amazon’s U.S. warehouses.

A few days in advance of the strike, Amazon announced it would invest $700 million to train 100,000 employees for more highly-skilled jobs.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Minneapolis Labor Review.


CONTRIBUTOR

Steve Share
Steve Share

Steve Share is Editor at Minneapolis Labor Review. Share is a member of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild. In addition to editing the Labor Review, Share serves as communications director for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.

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