On July 15, dozens of workers at the Amazon fulfillment center warehouse in Shakopee staged a one-day strike to protest working conditions. Joining the workers were members of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group from Seattle, supporters from several local unions, elected officials, and many activist organizations, including MN350.
MN350 supported this strike by Amazon workers because working people have the right to earn a living wage, have affordable healthcare, join a union, and have access to clean air and water, no matter where they live, where they’re from or where they work. We support Amazon workers across the country, along with labor from many sectors, who are organizing to assert their rights and make clear the harm that the extractive economy and companies like Amazon cause workers and the planet.
Organized by three Somali women – Hibaq Mohamed, Nimo Hirad, and Safiyo Mohamed – the Shakopee workers, many of whom are East African immigrants, chose to walk out on Prime Day, one of Amazon’s busiest shopping days of the year. The Awood Center, a dynamic workers’ center rooted in Minnesota’s East African community, provided support.
“’We are striking because we are human – we are not robots,’ said Sahro Sharif, who has worked for a year at Amazon Shakopee’s fulfillment center as an order picker. ‘We are tired of Amazon workers being hurt on the job…Keeping up with increased workloads is just too much.’” The workers’ demands included: reducing the required rate for packing, improved work injury compensation, securing better working conditions, and opening up more opportunities for promotion.
Rally speakers noted Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, while his company pulls in $11 billion in profits a year. Somehow, that isn’t enough – the drive for greater profits, faster delivery, and market dominance means that Amazon aggressively pushes workers to exhausting lengths to meet demands. One warehouse worker told the crowd, “During your 30-minute lunch break, they expect you to box 50 boxes. We are so afraid about our production rate, we are afraid to use the bathroom. Each minute that you walk to the bathroom is counted against you.”
As Amazon extracts maximum effort out of each worker, it’s also fueling emissions at a calamitous rate. That is why representatives from Amazon Employees for Climate Justice from Seattle came to support the strikers in Shakopee. AECJ recently presented a list of demands for Amazon, including releasing a public report on company emissions, and reducing company-wide dependence on fossil fuels, citing Amazon’s coal-powered data centers and the amount of gas used for one-day package deliveries. They also called on Amazon to end its contracts via Amazon Web Services with fossil fuel companies. Through AWS Amazon is courting multi-million dollar deals with fossil fuel companies around the world, promoting “solutions for the modern oil and gas company” that will find oil faster, recover more oil, and reduce production costs, with no regard for the disastrous long-term impacts burning that oil will cause.
AECJ wrote in a statement of support for the strike, “We cannot create a sustainable, long-term approach to addressing the climate crisis without addressing structural racial and economic inequities that are part of our system of extraction – of energy, material, and human labor – that have caused the crisis.”
Amazon pilot Michael Russo also joined the walkout, representing pilots with Amazon Air and the Teamsters. “We need safe jobs for pilots, warehouse workers and drivers. Amazon needs workers in order to be a success and that’s why we’re here.” State representatives Brad Tabke from Shakopee and Aisha Gomez from Minneapolis addressed the rally, “You are inspiring people from around the world. Our struggles are connected and our victories are connected.” The day after the strike, 13 members of congress called on the US Labor Department to investigate conditions in Amazon’s warehouses.
The strike garnered attention from media outlets around the world. It also galvanized workers closer to home. In August and again in October, Amazon workers at the Eagan delivery center walked off the job, refusing to return to work until management addressed their demands.
That a small group of workers in Shakopee could generate this response is incredible. It shows the power of cross issue organizing, alliance building, and understanding climate and labor rights from many angles and experiences. To change everything, we need everyone. With the SEIU, the second-largest union in America, endorsing the Green New Deal, and a powerful labor/green alliance growing, there is a path emerging to build a widespread movement for economic and ecological justice. Working people at the forefront of the extractive economy bring a powerful analysis of who the economy benefits, who is left behind, and how we build power to ensure workers’ dignity and a just transition.
Community member Filsan Abraham said of Amazon’s famed one-day delivery, “All that comes at a cost.” We are grateful to the organizers and all the Shakopee workers who took a big risk to stand up for their rights and to shine a light on what those costs are. We are proud to stand with them.
If you are interested in fighting for climate justice through causes like this, we encourage you to join one of MN350’s volunteer-led teams!
Mike Rollin is a writer, teacher, organizer, and member of MN350’s Communications Team. He lives in Minneapolis with his family.