Somali workers stage walkout at Amazon fulfillment center

They're demanding better working conditions from the retailer
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U.S. Rep-elect Ilhan Omar speaks at Amazon workers' rally in Shakopee.

U.S. Rep-elect Ilhan Omar speaks at Amazon workers' rally in Shakopee.

Months of tensions between Amazon and its Somali workers in Minnesota came to a head Friday, when those workers staged a rally outside the retailer's fulfillment center in Shakopee.

The workers, who pick and package orders at the facility, are demanding that Amazon improve working conditions – including safety.

The primary concern is the increasingly fast pace at which the employees are expected to process orders. According to the New York Times, employees are now expected to pack 230 orders per hour – up from the previously required 160 orders per hour.

Workers say keeping up with Amazon's crushing schedule is causing them "shoulder, back, wrist, and knee injuries," KARE 11 reports. 

The station also says workers report having their progress tracked by a computer as soon as they clock in, and face write-ups or getting fired if they don't keep up.

And though Muslim workers are given paid time to observe their daily prayers, WCCO reports, "their time is interrupted when they leave the production line for prayer" – making it that much more challenging to satisfy Amazon's requirements. 

Helping to organize the Shakopee fulfillment center workers is the Awood Center, a nonprofit that advocates for the East African Community in Minnesota.

Activists from the center have been in talks with Amazon, but recent conversations with the company "failed to resolve concerns," the Star Tribune reported. 

The resulting rally on Friday had some serious backers, with state Rep. Ilhan Omar, newly elected to U.S. Congress, showing up to support the Amazon workers:

As the Star Tribune notes, this comes "at the height of the busy holiday season."

Amazon's response

Shortly after the protest began Friday, Amazon issued a statement, saying "we have a great safety record" and that "we work hard every day to ensure all of our employees are treated fairly and with dignity and respect...":

The company also claimed that "the majority of the people participating in today's events are not Amazon associates because most Amazon associates are at work today sending out thousands of holiday packages for customers."

"For them," the retailer said, "it was business as usual."

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