How a group of East African workers in the Twin Cities are taking on Amazon

Their successful efforts have attracted the attention of the New York Times.
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A group of East African workers in the Twin Cities are succeeding where many have failed by persuading Amazon to negotiate over its working conditions.

The efforts of the Awood Center in Minneapolis featured last week in a New York Times piece that describes them as the first known organized labor group "to get Amazon management to negotiate."

You might recall, BMTN covered the Awood Center in the summer, when they held a rally with a group of predominantly Somali workers at Amazon's Eagan fulfillment center, who said they were exhausted, dehydrated, and struggling to keep up with Amazon's strenuous productivity demands particularly during Ramadan.

The New York Times reports that since then, workers have had at least two private meetings with Amazon managers, and it has led to compromises at its facilities in the Minneapolis area that includes requiring a general manager and a Somali-speaking manager to agree on any firings relating to productivity rates.

Amazon also agreed to meet with workers quarterly and designate a manager to respond to complaints within five days – concessions rarely heard of from the retail giant.

While they were buoyed by this success, the workers don't feel it does enough to address the high-pressured demands Amazon places on its warehouse staff.

To that end, a group of around 40 workers will be staging a protest at its Shakopee facility, where around 30 percent of Amazon's 1,500 workers are East African, on December 14

According to the Star Tribune, while Amazon has been engaging with workers' representatives, they haven't addressed concerns over the increasing quota levels that workers are expected to meet, prompting fears among workers they could lose their jobs.

One worker told the newspaper that since he joined Amazon last year, the number of boxes he's expected to pack has increased 50 percent, and while Amazon workers get breaks including for prayer, their quotas don't take that time into account.

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This past week, Amazon has also been the subject of other workers' protests in Europe to coincide with Black Friday, where some staff have described the conditions in its warehouses as "inhuman."

In a statement, Amazon says that the "safety and well-being of our employees is our number one priority," adding that each community it operates from is different and in each one "we work to ensure our employees have a great experience with the most important element being our direct connection to our employees."

The Awood Center, a non-profit that is affiliated with the Council of Islamic Relations -Minnesota, has been attracting attention from prominent workers' rights supporters since the NY Times piece went live, including Minnesota's soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, and the also recently elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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