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Amazon Prime Day: Minnesota workers strike to protest their working conditions

Workers at Amazon's Minnesota stores are on strike on one of the company's biggest days of sales: Prime Day. They demand that the company reduce productivity quotas, convert more temporary workers into Amazon employees, and do more to address workplace injuries.

Workers in Shakopee, Minnesota, about 40 km southwest of Minneapolis, strike for six hours and hold an afternoon rally in front of Amazon's warehouse on Monday, the first day of business. Extravaganza Prime Discount of two days. The strike, which was reported by Bloomberg last week, will probably not have much impact on Amazon's business – it has more than 100 warehouses in the US – but Is another example of the increased willingness of technology workers and lower level businesses to speak out against their employers. It also indicates that Amazon's promise last year to pay a minimum wage of $ 15 is not enough to keep her workforce happy forever.

"These should be safe, reliable jobs that people can rely on," said William Stolz, a striking laborer at Amazon's Shakopee warehouse in Recode. Stolz, 24, is a school preparer and has been working there for two years. "It's very stressful mentally; it's very stressful physically, "he said of the job.

As Alexia Fernández Campbell of Vox noted last week, warehouse workers, who "have long complained of harsh working conditions in Amazon's distribution centers, are unhappy with the recent decision of the Company to offer customers a one-day delivery. " the pressure and speed of their work.

The organizers estimated that more than 100 workers would be on strike, but the actual turnout is not clear. A handful of Amazon engineers who go to Seattle to go on strike join the workers in the striking warehouse. Among them is Weston Fribley, a software engineer who was one of the organizers of a group of employees who urged Amazon to implement a plan to fight climate change. The initiative failed during the shareholder vote in May.

"We see these issues as deeply intertwined. At the root, Amazon employees do not have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and their work, "said Fribley in Recode. "I think the workers here in Minnesota and ourselves, working for climate justice – I think we understand that the mere fact that one of these improvements is happening on Amazon will force us to work all together."

The Awood Center, a community organization of Minnesota workers with an East African legacy, spearheaded Monday's strike. The group helped Amazon workers to engage in activism – last year they asked Amazon to reduce the workload while Muslim workers were fasting for Ramadan and have convinced the company to create a dedicated prayer area for employees. Minnesota workers were the first to discuss working conditions with Amazon's management and to make the company better.

"We see our struggles are stronger together," Abdirahman Muse, executive director of the Awood Center, told Bloomberg last week. Beyond the Awood Center, the International Union of Service Employees, the Teamsters and the Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations support the strike.

Stolz said some workers who had planned to strike appeared to have been "scared" by something and decided not to go on strike, although he did not really know what happened. "We do not have a majority of workers, but we have decided to join those who are ready to take a position on the First Day, because we do not all need to be able to send a powerful message. Stolz said to Recode.

At one level, the strike works; national attention, including from 2020, the presidential contenders Democrat Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Both politicians specifically targeted Amazon for criticism in the past.

It is apparently unprecedented for American Amazon warehouse workers to strike on the first day. In Europe, however, strikes in Amazon often occur. By Fernández Campbell:

The planned strike is a bold move for American warehouse workers who, unlike their European colleagues, have never organized a work stoppage at a major event in the United States. purchase. In November, Black Friday, workers in Amazon warehouses in Spain, Germany and France organized strikes and protests took place in Italy and the United Kingdom. (Employees at the company's warehouses in Europe are largely unionized.) A strike in the United States, where Amazon workers are not yet unionized, shows how frustrated and hopeless some employees are.

On Monday, Amazon workers in Germany are also on strike to demand better wages. "If our colleagues see what's going on here and see some of the successes that have resulted … it will be more effective if more of our colleagues join us," Fribley said.

Amazon's spokesperson, Julie Law, told Recode in an email that Amazon Prime Day had become "an opportunity for our critics, including unions, to raise awareness about their cause". She also highlighted the hourly minimum wage of USD 15 and the benefits offered by the company to its employees.

"If these groups – the unions and the politicians join their cause – really want to help the American worker, we encourage them to concentrate their efforts to legislate to increase the federal minimum wage, because 7.25 dollars is too low", she said. I said.

President of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, announced last fall that the company would start paying $ 15 an hour to its workers. Many critics of society, including Senator Sanders, praised this decision, although Sanders continued to attack the company for working conditions. (He named last year a bill after Bezos, aimed at "corporate welfare.") Even former vice president Joe Biden, a more moderate candidate for the 2020 race, has criticized Amazon.

Technicians are working more and more to denounce their employers

Monday's strike is the latest example of the growing trend for technical workers to publicly express disagreements with their employers, both on ethical issues and workplace policies. Jason Del Rey of Recode worked on it earlier this year:

Last April, thousands of Google employees signed a protest letter against the company's work for the Pentagon. In November, more than 20,000 Google employees participated in a strike following a bombing according to which company executives had paid $ 90 million to one of the biggest leaders who had been dismissed by a complaint for sexual misconduct.

Amazon employees have also challenged management over the past year on issues ranging from lack of diversity on its board of directors to selling its facial recognition software to the police.

And sometimes, workers get results, like Minnesota Amazon workers. They certainly hold the attention: Monday, the hashtag #PrimeDayAmazon had a tendency on Twitter. But people also tweeted about #AmazonStrike and urged consumers to boycott Prime Day sales to show their solidarity with the workers.

Recode and Vox have joined forces to discover and explain how our digital world is changing – and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough discussions that the technology industry needs today.

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