Amazon Warehouse Workers in Minnesota Walk Off the Job, Protest Alleged Retaliation

More than 35 warehouse workers walked off a night shift at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota on Thursday to protest the firing of a co-worker who raised safety concerns to management.
October 2, 2020, 7:37pm
Photo 1
Awood Center via the Athena Coalition

More than 35 warehouse workers walked off a night shift at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota on Thursday to protest the firing of a co-worker who raised concerns to management about the lack of safety protections at work.

The walk-off at the Amazon facility came the same day Amazon revealed that almost 20,000 of its workers, roughly 1.5 percent of its U.S. workforce, have tested positive for COVID-19. Amazon's Shakopee warehouse has a predominantly Somali workforce, which has received national attention for being seemingly the first group of workers to get Amazon management to improve working conditions.

Last night, Amazon workers protested in the Shakopee warehouse parking lot, demanding the reinstatement of Farhiyo Warsame, an Amazon warehouse employee who agitated for improved working conditions and was fired late last week for "time off task" violations. "Bring Farhiyo back," the workers chanted. (Amazon uses a monitoring system that tracks worker productivity; too much "time off task" can result in disciplinary action and termination.)

"Amazon targeted [Warsame] saying she was taking too much time off task, the same thing they said when they targeted Hibaq Mohamed and many of our other worker leaders," the Awood Center, which organizes Somali Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota, wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. "We demand Amazon reinstate Farhiyo and stop retaliating against us for fighting for our lives."

The Amazon workers in Shakopee say they're concerned that the company is increasingly using "time off task" policies to retaliate against workers who demand improved safer working conditions.

"We're not safe. People get written up for time-off-task when we drink water, and go to the bathroom. But we're not robots, we're human," Guled Abdi, a worker at the Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, who participated in the walkout on Thursday night, told Motherboard.

Since the start of the pandemic, Amazon has fired at least two other warehouse workers who demanded better COVID-19 protections. In late March, Amazon fired a warehouse worker Christian Smalls at its Staten Island, New York City fulfilment center who led a walkout, demanding improved COVID-19 protections. In a leaked memo obtained by VICE News, Amazon's general counsel called Smalls, "not smart or articulate."

Two weeks later, Amazon fired Bashir Mohamed, another Amazon warehouse worker at the Shakopee facility, who asked for more rigorous cleaning procedures in the facility. Amazon claims that he was fired for refusing to speak to his manager.

Amazon warehouse workers across the country have led at least eight walkouts since March. Thursday's walkout is the second work stoppage led by workers at the Shakopee, Minnesota facility, known as MSP1 since the pandemic started. As Motherboard reported in April, Amazon reinstated a fired worker after more than 50 workers at the Shakopee warehouse staged a walkout in protest of her termination.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.