Amazon workers plan a strike the first day despite a promise of $ 15 an hour

(Bloomberg) – Employees at stores in Minnesota plan to strike during the celebration of summer sales of online retailers, a sign that labor unrest persists even after the company has agreed to pay all employees at least $ 15 a year last year.

Workers at a distribution center in Shakopee, Minnesota, are planning a six-hour work stoppage on July 15, the first day of Prime Day. Amazon launched the event five years ago, using major discounts on TVs, toys and clothing to attract and retain Premium members, who pay a subscription fee in exchange for free shipping. and other advantages.

"Amazon is going to tell a story about it, that is, they can send you a Kindle home in a day, it's not so wonderful," said William Stolz , one of Shakopee's employees who organized the strike. "We want to take this opportunity to talk about what needs to be done to make it work and to pressure Amazon to protect us and create safe and reliable jobs."

Amazon, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on the draft strike.

In Europe, where unions are stronger, Amazon workers are regularly on strike at major events such as Prime Day and Black Friday. So far, Amazon's American workers had not left work on key selling days. About 250 unionized pilots who were shipping packages for Amazon and DHL Worldwide Express had staged a brief strike just before Thanksgiving in 2016, before a federal judge ordered them to return to work, eliminating any disruption during the high holiday shopping season.

One of the most profitable companies in the world, headed by Jeff Bezos, the richest in the world, has become a symbol of income inequality. Critics say that the construction of warehouses profits from tax breaks, but pays so little to the workers that some are forced to seek the help of the government for their basic needs such as food and food. Health care. The promise to pay $ 15 an hour did not come until the company withstood the attacks of politicians such as presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who proposed a "Stop BEZOS" law that would have imposed a tax to companies like Amazon to offset the costs. government benefits like Medicaid for their employees.

Recently, warehouses in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota have become an epicenter of worker activism, led by Muslim immigrants from East Africa who, according to the organizers, make up the majority of the staff at the five institutions. Last year, workers entered the entrance of a distribution center chanting "Yes, we can" in English and Somali, thus presenting the management with claims such as charges of work reduced during the fast of Ramadan. They also circulated leaflets at a nearby execution center, urging their colleagues to wear blue shirts and hijabs to support the same cause.

The organizers said the actions led to discussions between employees and management last fall and led to modest changes. These include easing the pressure on workers to meet quotas during Ramadan and designating a conference room as a prayer space.

But they say that the company has failed to meet the demands of workers, such as the conversion of more temporary workers into employees of Amazon and the permanent relaxation of productivity quotas they claim, make dangerous jobs and unsafe. In a letter from The Verge to the National Labor Relations Board, last year, an Amazon lawyer said that hundreds of employees at a Baltimore site had been fired in the US. About one year or so for not having achieved productivity rates. In March, the workers staged a three-hour strike.

On July 15, employees at the Shakopee facility plan to strike for about three hours at the end of the day shift and about three hours at the beginning of the night shift. In the afternoon, workers also plan to gather outside facilities, located about 25 km from Minneapolis.

In a solidarity effort, a handful of Amazon engineers are planning to travel to Minnesota to join the protest, where activists will ask the company to take action to fight climate change, lighten quotas and create more temporary employees. "We are both fighting for a viable future," said Weston Fribley, software engineer in Seattle, one of the employees of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group, who will carry out the trip.

This is the latest example of technology employees with very different jobs trying to forge a common cause in the hope that their bosses will find it more difficult to ignore their demands.

"We are finding that our struggles are stronger together," said Abdirahman Muse, executive director of Awood Center, a labor advocacy group that spearheads activism in Minnesota, supported by Service Employees International among others. Union, the Teamsters and the Minnesota Chapter of the Council. on US-Islamic relations. Muse said he expects more than 100 workers to go on strike.

Workers also plead with the federal government, saying their activism was illegally punished earlier this year. Workers filed two complaints last week with the National Labor Relations Board. A complaint against Amazon's workforce provider, Integrity Staffing Solutions, alleges that it illegally retaliated against a worker who, according to the organizers, was mobilizing colleagues for the March strike and was fired while he was about to leave work to participate. Integrity did not comment in response to the Bloomberg survey.

The other complaint, filed against Amazon itself, claims that the company retaliated against other workers who went on strike in March by deducting hours from their unpaid leave. The hours spent on strike were counted in the total of 20 hours that workers may miss each quarter without being fired, according to the organizers. Such actions could cool workplace activism and violate federal laws, even if they did not result in layoffs, said Charlotte Garden, a law professor at Seattle University.

"It's a violation of labor law when an employer punishes workers for striking, and one of the ways to punish workers for striking is to take part of their leave," she said. declared.

The Labor Relations Board has received about 50 complaints about Amazon, most of which have been withdrawn or returned. The complaint of Shakopee workers is remarkable since it alleges that more than a dozen staff members have been abused.

The spokeswoman for Amazon said that the company had still not seen the complaint regarding alleged unfair labor practices.

From a logistical point of view, the strike will probably be nothing more than a shock for Amazon because other facilities and people can easily take over. Nevertheless, the action shows that Amazon workers, driven by the tight labor market and employee activism elsewhere, have been encouraged to demand better treatment. The political pressure will not disappear either. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, another prominent presidential candidate, both called Amazon for allegations of interference in the right of Whole Foods workers to organize.

To contact the reporters on this story: Josh Eidelson in Palo Alto at [email protected] Spencer Soper in Seattle at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at [email protected], Molly Schuetz

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