Every month, there are more visitors to Amazon than there are births in an entire year. But how many of those Amazon shoppers do you think have paused to consider the logistics behind their purchase? Probably not many, but Amazon warehouse workers in Shakopee, Minnesota, are trying to make change that, as Bloomberg reported earlier this week.
The fulfillment center workers plan to stop working for six hours during Prime Day, on Monday, July 15, one of Amazon’s biggest sales each year. Safiyo Mohamed, a packer at Shakopee who is helping organize the protest, said she expects over 200 of the 1,500 employees to participate. Engineers are even flying in to Minnesota to join the walk-out in solidarity, Mohamed said. According to Mohamed, “every Amazon employee has been treated unfairly and we are united to fight for our rights.”
For a company that prides itself on speedy delivery, what could a walkout like this mean for Prime Day purchases? According to the company’s Prime Day press release, “Prime just keeps getting faster as the membership program evolves to predominantly one-day delivery.” But will Amazon be able to put purchases in people’s hands within a day or two if hundreds of workers walk out for six hours on one of the company’s busiest days of the year?
For the most part, experts we talked to say customers probably won’t feel the effects of the strike. Geoffrey Van Haeren, CTO of Branded Online, says “disrupting one warehouse temporarily won’t have much of an impact on Amazon’s massive, distributed logistics and fulfillment operation even on an incredibly busy day like Prime Day. Amazon has immense redundancy and disaster recovery processes in place.”
So the strike probably won’t ruin Prime Day, but it certainly isn’t good news for Amazon, either. In Van Haeren’s view, “Amazon has suffered some general bad press over the past couple of years, and this doesn’t help. At some point, this could affect their brand.”
Will Tjernlund, an Amazon consultant and founder and CMO at Goat Consulting, shared this sentiment: “Eventually no one is going to want to work at Amazon if it’s that terrible.” At some point, Amazon will either have to improve working conditions or automate more jobs to win over its associates and customers, he said. The protestors in Shakopee hope to push Amazon closer to that turning point.
On July 1, John Oliver examined warehouse work conditions in a scathing monologue. Amazon was his primary target. He said workers in fulfillment centers face limited bathroom breaks, excessive time on their feet, and even bear mace attacks.
Meg Brady, an Amazon Fulfillment associate who has worked in the Shakopee warehouse for almost two years, said the protesters’ grievances include unrealistic production rates she claims lead to repetitive stress injuries, unfair write-ups, and the influx of temporary workers who don’t have the opportunity to become full-time employees.
“Management demands the best from its employees, and now we’re demanding the best from our management,” Brady said.
Amazon did not immediately respond to email requesting comment, but in a statement quoted in Bloomberg said “the fact is Amazon offers already what this outside organization is asking for, and we invite anyone to see for themselves by taking a tour of the facility.”
Amazon has faced strikes before, but the Shakopee warehouse community makes this protest unique. A nearby area in Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis, has been nicknamed Little Mogadishu in light of the predominant Somali immigrant population there. Tjernlund said he lives in the area and Little Mogadishu crime and unemployment have recently been on the decline, thanks in part to Amazon. When the company opened its Shakopee fulfillment center, it offered jobs to the Somali community and even offered transportation to drive them 30 minutes from Little Mogadishu to the warehouse every day.
Since then, the Somali community has “gone from first-generation immigrants looking for anything to progressing enough through society to be able to demand their rights,” Tjernlund said. In Tjernlund’s opinion, Amazon might feel these demands are unfounded since it has gone out of its way to give the Somali community a chance at integration through full-time jobs with competitive wages. Nevertheless, Mohamed felt it wasn’t enough. “We are the workers, who are the victims, so we need fair treatment from Amazon.”
“For the most part, Amazon has been very good to the community and has done a great job of getting everyone jobs… it seems like we’ve gotten to the point now where the workers are not just happy that they get a free handout from Amazon, they’re demanding normal rights like every other worker,” Tjernlund said.