amazon warehouse

Amazon workers in US to strike during Prime Day over job conditions

Image credit: DT

Workers based at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota, are planning a short strike during a busy period for the online giant in order to demand improved job security and safer working conditions.

The planned strike will coincide with Prime Day: a 48-hour period which marks one of the busiest times in the calendar for Amazon. Prime Day was invented in 2015 as a means of driving sales during a slow month, with discounts offered to Amazon Prime members. Prime Day 2018 was the largest so far, with more than 100 million items purchased and strong sales for the Echo Dot and FireTV Stick, both of which are Amazon’s own consumer electronics products.

Employees have alleged that due to intense pressure to fulfil a spike in demand, warehouse workers are forbidden from scheduling leave days across Prime Days and during the winter holiday season. This has resulted in employees in more union-friendly countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland, using these periods to put pressure on the company with strike action.

Amazon’s leadership has been strictly and consistently anti-union. In September 2018, it was revealed that the company had shown employees at Whole Foods (acquired by Amazon in 2017 for $14bn) a 45-minute anti-union video.

This year, Amazon employees at Shakopee’s MSP1 warehouse will strike for six hours on Monday 15 July, when Prime Day is due to begin. The strikers are demanding that Amazon does more to guarantee their job security and safety at work, such as by permanently reducing quotas which put intense pressure on employees who are often threatened with being fired for failing to meet them. According to Bloomberg, the protestors would like to see people on temporary contracts moved to full-time positions.

Amazon has been accused of treating its employees like ‘robots’, including by forcing them to fulfil such demanding schemes that they are unable to take toilet breaks or drink water. According to a Freedom of Information request filed by the GMB Union in the UK, ambulances were called out 600 times to UK Amazon warehouses in the three years up to May 2018.

In October 2018, Amazon announced that it would begin offering a $15/hour minimum wage for its warehouse and customer service workers, although employees argued that this could actually represent a pay reduction due to other policy changes.

The same Shakopee warehouse was affected by brief strikes in December 2018 and March 2019 by a small group of Somali-American workers who called for the company to improve working conditions, such as by stopping the practice of counting breaks for bathroom visits and prayers against employees’ productivity rates. The strikers argued that these strict schemes threaten their religious freedom. The December and March strikes both began after talks with Amazon executives had faltered.

The employees were reportedly able to win lighter quotas during Ramadan and some space for prayer, although working conditions remain high-pressure.

During their Prime Day strike, the Shakopee strikers will be joined by a group of engineers from the pressure group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, who have been attempting to force the company to take greater responsibility and provide more transparency with regards to its environmental impact. In May this year, Amazon shareholders rejected a motion calling for the company to reduce its use of fossil fuels and disclose its total carbon footprint.

An Amazon spokesperson stated that 90 per cent of employees at the Shakopee warehouse are on full-time contracts and that the Shakopee employees have “great employment opportunities with excellent pay ranging from $16.25-$20.80 an hour and comprehensive benefits including health care, up to 20 weeks parental leave, paid education, promotional opportunities and more.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles