Amazon workers rally outside Shakopee warehouse for better pay, safer work

By: - December 8, 2022 9:07 pm

Amazon warehouse worker Khali Jama speaks at a rally outside a fulfillment center in Shakopee to demand higher pay and safer working conditions on Dec. 8, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Warehouse workers, union leaders and activists rallied outside Amazon’s fulfillment center in Shakopee on Thursday to call for better wages, safer working conditions and an end to employee surveillance.

Amazon workers have long complained of grueling, surveillance-enforced productivity quotas that they say lead to high rates of workplace injuries.

“The safety here is horrible. You have to faint or die to get a day off,” said Khali Jama, 40, who’s worked at the warehouse for about a year.

Demands of workers have ratcheted up since the start of the holiday shopping season, with Amazon requiring workers to clock 60 hours a week through the end of the year. Workers called on the company to end its “mandatory extra time” policy and to lower productivity quotas.

Workers at the Shakopee warehouse, many of whom are East African, have staged walk-outs and demonstrations for years, winning some concessions from management and national media attention along the way.

A new attempt to unionize is also underway. A website called Amazon Labor Union Minnesota is collecting union cards, which are needed from at least 30% of the workforce to hold an election for union representation.

Unionizing efforts have largely been unsuccessful at Amazon, which fiercely opposes unions and has violated U.S. labor law in its efforts to quash organizing efforts. While workers won a landmark victory at a Staten Island warehouse, workers at a nearby facility voted down union representation, as did workers in Albany, N.Y. and Bessemer, Ala.

Activists shine a light spelling “Amazon workers rising” on a fulfillment center in Shakopee during a rally for higher wages and better working conditions on Dec. 8, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Supportive unions showed up at the demonstration on Thursday, including the Teamsters Local 120 and the Service Employees International Union. The demonstration was organized with the Awood Center, a nonprofit that supports East African workers; and TakeAction, a progressive organization that added a call for Amazon to address climate change alongside those of workers for better treatment.

A spokesperson for Amazon, in response to a request for comment, said the company provides competitive wages and benefits, takes worker safety seriously and is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy.

“Despite a small demonstration initiated by outside activists, the overwhelming majority of our employees at our fulfillment in Shakopee, MN continued to do what they do every day, deliver for our customers. As always, we’re grateful to our team for their hard work and commitment,” Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait wrote in a statement.

Jeremy Lane, a warehouse worker, said he would be supportive of a union but mainly wants fair pay and fair worker treatment. After five-and-a-half years, he’s reached the top of the pay scale at $21.40 and isn’t scheduled to receive any more raises. Unlike many companies that strive to retain workers, Amazon’s business model seems to rely on churning through workers in a matter of months.

Lane has continued working at Amazon for the benefits, despite an injury to a tendon in his arm that caused him to miss a month of work, unpaid. He said a doctor diagnosed it as a work-related injury.

“They said 100% that’s a work-related injury. We’ve seen numerous people from Amazon come in here with that same injury,” Lane said. “(Amazon) said you should have seen one of our doctors. That was just your doctor’s opinion.”

He said he doesn’t work as hard since the injury, and the company still keeps a constant tally of every second he’s not moving.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

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