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Somali-American Amazon workers demand better conditions

Somali-American refugees who work at an Amazon warehouse in Minnesota are demanding better working conditions Somali-American refugees who work at an Amazon warehouse in Minnesota are demanding better working conditions AFP

A group of Amazon workers in Minnesota who are Somali refugees resettled in the Midwestern US state demanded better working conditions Friday during a protest outside one of the retailer’s warehouses.

Dozens braved frigid temperatures to demonstrate outside of the Amazon warehouse in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee — home to a sizable Somali immigrant population from which Amazon has heavily recruited.

The protest is the latest effort by the workers, who say East African immigrants make up a majority of the workforce at the massive warehouse but go unheard.

“We don’t have rights in the company,” worker Abdulkadir Ahmad, 30, told AFP.Ads 

The workers, many of whom are practicing Muslims, say the required productivity rate is too high, that the company is unconcerned about too many worker injuries and that the conditions don’t allow practicing Muslims to pray as they otherwise would.

“We do not have enough time to pray. There is a lot of pressure. They say your rate is too low,” Ahmad said.

The workers timed their protest during the busy holiday shopping season, hoping to force the online retailer to make changes. They already have had some success, most significantly in holding two meetings with management.

The New York Times reported that it was the first known instance of any group succeeding in forcing Amazon to negotiate.

“We are appreciative they’ve sat down and talked with us, but we are not seeing real action,” activist Abdi Muse said.

Muse is the executive director of the Awood Center, a union-backed non-profit that organized the protest and helps East African workers in the state.

Amazon countered that it is a source of good pay and health benefits for warehouse employees, and has been engaged in “direct dialogue.”

“I encourage anyone to compare our pay, benefits and workplace to other retailers and major employers in the Shakopee community and across the country,” spokeswoman Shevaun Brown said in a statement.

The retail giant has faced past complaints from warehouse employees about working conditions.

It has more than 75 “fulfillment centers” across the country where purchased merchandise is packaged and shipped. The centers employ more than 125,000 full-time employees, according to Amazon.

Bloomberg reported this week that warehouse workers in New York have announced plans to unionize.

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