Shakopee Amazon protest - men praying

Muslim men pray on a prayer mat during the Dec. 14 protest in Shakopee.

Workers at the Shakopee Amazon fulfillment center will participate in a strike on one of Amazon’s busiest days, Prime Day, July 15, from 3 to 6 p.m.

The Awood Center, a nonprofit which was founded last year to advocate for East African workers in Minnesota, began the Amazon Strike event page on Facebook.

According to the page, employees and supporters will “go on strike as part of their continued push on the corporate giant to provide safe and reliable jobs, show respect for workers and their right to organize for better working conditions, open up opportunities for advancement for the predominantly East African workforce, and take concrete action to address pressing issues like climate change.”

Amazon spokeswoman Brenda Alfred said in a statement to the Valley News that the allegations made against the facility are “baseless” because most of the Amazon associates at the Shakopee fulfillment center are full-time employees, and productivity metrics have not changed since November.

“Our policy is that more than 75 percent of associates are already exceeding rate expectations before any changes are considered,” the statement says. “We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve.”

Alfred also said the facility provides “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.”

The strike will come seven months after a Shakopee strike when hundreds of East Africans, union members and supporters protested, chanting things like, “We’re humans, not robots!” and claiming Amazon’s working environment was too harsh.

At the Dec. 14 strike, Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American woman elected to Congress, spoke to the crowd, encouraging them to keep up the fight, reminding them that she once worked on an assembly line and cleaned offices and other “hard jobs” where she would go to the bathroom just to pray or rest her feet.

More than 2,500 employees work in the Shakopee fulfillment center, many of them Somalis who are bused in from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, which the locals call “Little Mogadishu” due to the prevalence of Somalis.

Mohamed Hassan, the leader of the protest and a full-time Amazon employee, said he expects around 300 people at Monday’s protest. He said employees are expected to “do the job too fast,” noting they’re expected to package 84 boxes per hour, and their 30-minute break counts as part of that hour.

“There’s no respect,” Hassan said. “Whether you’re working 10 years or a temporary, it’s the same.”

Hassan, who supports his wife and eight children, said nothing has changed within the company since the last strike seven months ago, and he is looking for other jobs.

According to the New York Times, Amazon requires workers to pack at least 230 items per hour, up from 160. Minnesota is home to more Somalis than any other state, and the Awood Center estimates 60 percent of Amazon’s 3,000 workers in the region are East African. However, Amazon spokeswoman Shevaun Brown estimated in December that the number of East African Amazon workers in the region was less than 50 percent.

Alfred invited anyone interested in Amazon’s working conditions to “see for themselves by taking a tour.” Facility tours are available Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tours can be scheduled at amazon.com/fctours.

Alfred said the strike will not affect customer shipments, since “Amazon has a well-developed fulfillment network across the country.”

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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