Amazon workers plan Prime Day protest at Shakopee warehouse over COVID-19 concerns

    Amazon employees hold a protest and walkout over conditions at the company's Staten Island distribution facility on March 30, 2020 in New York City. Workers at many facilities across the country have protested conditions, as employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

    Some workers at Amazon’s Shakopee warehouse plan to hold a protest on Wednesday — during the retail giant’s “Prime Day” sales event — for failing to adequately protect them from COVID-19 and allegedly retaliating against employees who’ve raised concerns.

    Since March, some 225 of Amazon’s workers in Shakopee have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Amazon workers in Minnesota have the highest rate of infection of any state where the behemoth retailer has operations.

    The workers, who are not unionized, earn a starting wage of $15 an hour.

    Earlier this month, more than 35 workers walked off the job to protest the firing of a co-worker who complained to management about the company’s lack of coronavirus safety protocols.

    The protest came on the same day that Amazon announced that nearly 20,000 of Amazon’s frontline and Whole Foods employees have been infected with the coronavirus nationwide. Amazon noted the rate of infection for its employees was generally lower than the general public, except for in Minnesota.

    The Minnesota Department of Health said Amazon is following best practices, according to the Star Tribune, which visited the fulfillment center to see how it was preparing for Prime Day.

    The company provides free onsite COVID-19 testing; installed an alert system to notify workers when they’re too close to one another; and checks workers’ temperatures as they enter. (Temperature checks are not an effective way to screen for the coronavirus.)

    Last year on Prime Day — which was extended to 48 hours — Amazon sold 175 million items worldwide, more than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

    Amazon managers have characterized the added workload as “fun” for its employees, who must sort and pack orders at a closely monitored sprint.

    “Especially as you get into fun days like Prime Day, everybody wants to be here because it’s fun filling these orders,” Scott Luedke, Amazon’s senior workplace health and safety program manager, told the Star Tribune.

    The Awood Center — the workers advocacy group which is organizing the Prime Day protest — criticized Amazon’s “relentless quest to speed up productivity.”

    They pointed to a recent investigation by Reveal, which found workplace injuries at Amazon spike following Prime Day and Cyber Monday.

    The Awood Center filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in April after one employee was likely infected with COVID-19 but was unable to get tested.

    Some workers hoped Amazon would temporarily close the warehouse to allow workers to quarantine, and workers have protested outside facilities in other states including Michigan, New York and Illinois.

    But as online shopping has surged during the pandemic, Amazon has scaled up its operations, hiring hundreds of more workers to fulfill orders.

    Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, has seen his wealth balloon since the start of the pandemic by $74 billion.

    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.