Ilhan Omar Joins Somali-American Amazon Workers Protesting Working Conditions

Credit: The Awood Center

Tensions continue between Somali-Americans and Amazon as workers gathered outside of the company’s Shakopee fulfillment center Friday night to protest working conditions at the facility.

Incoming U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar joined the group of about 100 protesters, praising their efforts and calling on Amazon to “respect these communities”and “treat them with dignity.”

“People who are going to receive those gifts — the packages you are putting together — need to know that every worker here is not fully happy,” Omar said. “Amazon doesn’t work if you don’t work.”

“The honest work you are putting in — that is not being respected,” she added.

The strain between Amazon and the East African community centers around what the protesters consider an unreasonable productivity rate, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of religious provisions. Activist organizations have been in negotiations with Amazon for several months, but progress stalled last month leaving “collective disappointment that Amazon didn’t do more to address their concerns,” according to the Star Tribune.

One area of concern is the need for more accomodations for daily prayers. While Muslim workers are allowed paid prayer breaks, the workers say it isn’t enough. The system used to track productivity does not account for the prayer breaks, leaving some workers to say there isn’t enough time for the religious observances. Protesters also pushed for designated prayer rooms.

While the East African community calls for greater religious accomodations, Amazon contends they have made significant attempts to work with their religious beliefs including supplying prayer mats to workers in the Shakopee facility, converting a conference room to a prayer room during Ramadan, and allowing flexible work schedules during Ramadan.

In a statement obtained by the Star Tribune, Amazon disputed the protesters’ claims, saying they “have a great safety record” and “work hard every day to ensure all of our employees are treated fairly and with dignity and respect.”

The company noted that most of the protesters were not Amazon associates “because most Amazon associates are at work today sending out thousands of holiday packages for customers.” They expressed disappointment in the protesters “efforts to undermine the dedicated and hard-working people who are the life and soul of our business.”

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Christine Bauman