A group of Somali-Americans are planning a “massive” protest at Minnesota’s Amazon facility after the corporation agreed to meet with organizers of the protest, but came up short on complying with their demands.
A non-profit called the Awood Center, which seeks to build “East African worker power,” first started organizing for better working conditions after Amazon upped its productivity expectations for workers at the company’s fulfillment centers. After recent changes, Amazon now requires workers to pack 230 items an hour, up from the previous 160 items per hour.
Somali workers at the company’s Shakopee fulfillment center claim the new expectations are unrealistic, and don’t account for the paid prayer breaks many of them take, which is protected by state law.
“There is just pressure. The people they don’t fire worry one day they will be fired,” one member of the Awood Center recently told The New York Times. The Times notes that the Awood Center is the first-known group of American workers to successfully pressure Amazon into negotiations.
After at least two private meetings, Amazon agreed to a list of compromises, including the involvement of a general manager and one Somali-speaking manager in all firing decisions, a quarterly meeting with management, and a designated manager who will respond to complaints within five days.
But the Awood Center wasn’t pleased with the lack of compromise on productivity requirements, and is now planning a protest and walkout for Friday, December 14—less than two weeks before Christmas.
“Join us to call on Amazon to use their wealth and power for the common good in collaboration with Minnesota communities,” an event description for the protest states.
“Minnesota strives to be a state where all families—no matter our race, religion, or zip code—can live full and happy lives. But right now corporations like Amazon—with a majority East African workforce in Minnesota—are not living up to our Minnesota standards and are failing to work with our communities,” the Awood Center said in a recent statement.
Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05) praised the Awood Center in a recent tweet, saying she was “proud of these workers for standing up for their rights, even in the face of immense corporate power.”
“When workers stand together, they can make a big difference and improve job conditions. This is a big moment for workers’ rights and I’m proud to see fellow Minnesotans leading the charge,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) said.
According to The Shakopee Valley News, Omar was expected to hold a press conference about Friday’s protest, but had to cancel due to a scheduling conflict. The Awood Center recently met with several Democratic elected officials in Minnesota, including Gov.-elect Tim Walz (D-MN) and Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan (D-MN), to “talk about work issues they are facing at Amazon.”
The organization is also protesting the recent termination of Amazon employee Safio Barow, a Somali American who was fired from the company for “not meeting her productivity requirements.”
“Before Ramadan, Amazon promised its Muslim employees that the company would ease off its grueling productivity requirements during the holy month. But just three days into Ramadan, Safio Barow was fired by Amazon for—you guessed it—not meeting her productivity requirements,” a petition in support of Barow states.
“This isn’t the first time Amazon has shown insensitivity towards their Muslim workers, and it’s time we say enough,” it adds.
The Awood Center estimates that 60 percent of Amazon’s 3,000 Minnesota employees are East African.
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