Friday June 8, 2018
Nimo Omar speaks at a news conference demanding Amazon curb heavy workloads for East African workers at Amazon's warehouse in Eagan, Minn., as they fast and to let them take time off without penalty for Eid, the festival that ends Ramadan. (Emma Sapong / Associated Press)
run-up to Amazon Prime Day, the e-commerce giant’s big July sales
promotion, overlaps with Ramadan, 30 sacred days during which many
observant Muslims fast and seek time off.
creating tension in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region, where activists say
Amazon.com Inc. employs more than 1,000 East African Muslim immigrants
at four warehouses. Amazon needs to stuff its facilities with inventory
in preparation for one of its busiest days of the year at the very time
many of those workers want a break.
conflicting demands of the religious holiday and the corporate one have
helped spur something almost unheard of: concerted workplace activism
by employees of Amazon. In a tight labor market, at a sensitive moment
for management, employees say the company is making moves to address the
don’t want to pick between our wages and our faith,” said Abdirahman
Ali, one of dozens of workers from the four facilities who organizers
say have become leaders in the effort.
a statement, Amazon said, “We offer a positive, safe and accommodating
workplace for employees, including providing a great pay of $15 per hour
and comprehensive benefits. We respect the religious practices of
employees and offer accommodations as needed.”
has largely avoided the consumer backlash associated with “Christmas
creep” — retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day to kick off the season,
only to take heat from employees and customers for commercializing the
November holiday — since all shopping is done digitally and its
warehouse workers toil out of sight of customers. The clash over Ramadan
is a rare public display of Amazon’s warehouse workers seeking relief
from the demands of a web store that never closes.
Monday, organizers said, 15 Amazon employees and a few dozen other
activists converged on the retailer’s Eagan, Minn., delivery center,
where they rallied outside and then filled the entryway, chanting, “Yes
we can” in Somali and English.
demonstrators handed a management representative a letter with a series
of requests, including a call to curb their heavy workloads while
they’re fasting and to let them take time off without penalty for Eid,
the festival that ends Ramadan.
followed organizing last month at Amazon’s fulfillment center in nearby
Shakopee, where employees circulated fliers throughout the building
urging their co-workers to wear shirts and hijabs that were blue, the
color of the Somali flag, on a chosen day to show support for similar
demands. Before the day employees had designated, workers said, the
facility’s top manager pulled them together to announce that the company
was creating on-site prayer rooms and would ease up on employees’
quotas for the duration of the fast.
showed us that we are very powerful,” said Aaisha Jama, an employee at
the facility who’s been mobilizing colleagues for the cause and working
with counterparts from other sites.
has been on a years-long hiring binge to accommodate sales growth. It
had 563,100 employees as of March 31, up 60% from a year earlier, mainly
because of its acquisition of Whole Foods Market Inc. but also because
of new warehouses around the country.