Employees at Amazon’s now-infamous Shakopee, Minnesota, warehouse – the first of the famously anti-union retailer’s locations to stage a walkout in the U.S. – is planning a strike next week to coincide with Prime Day, the company’s invented shopping holiday.
Prime Day, now in its fifth year, is an enormous sales windfall for Amazon, and resultantly a major crunch time for warehouse workers who are often made to work mandatory overtime to fulfil shoppers’ orders. As during the winter holidays, warehouse workers have previously told Gizmodo, Prime Day is allegedly a “blackout period” where vacation days – for the tiers of warehouse workers that receive them – cannot be scheduled. Given their tactical importance to Amazon’s logistics empire, these blackout periods have become popular strike days at European warehouses, where, legally and culturally, unions tend to be stronger.
Workers at MSP1, as the Shakopee fulfilment centre is known, hope to bring that tradition to the U.S.
The unrelenting pace of work at Amazon’s warehouses has long been a source of criticism, leading to allegations of, for example, employees urinating in bottles in order to keep from falling behind. That same pace became a flashpoint for MSP1 workers, many of whom are practicing Muslims and who claimed Amazon’s time control schemes impacted their religious freedom of expression. Since beginning to organise, MSP1 workers, along with local activist group Awood Center, managed to bring Amazon executives to the bargaining table last November; when talks stymied, they marched on their own facility in December, followed by a three-hour walkout in March. Upping the ante, the plan for July 15 is a six-hour work stoppage.
In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, an Amazon spokesperson characterised the company’s compensation for warehouse workers as “excellent” in a clear attempt to spin MSP1 workers’ grievances as ridiculous.
“The fact is Amazon offers already what this outside organisation is asking for. We provide great employment opportunities with excellent pay – ranging from $16.25-$20.80 [£13.04-£16.69] an hour, and comprehensive benefits including health care, up to 20 weeks parental leave, paid education, promotional opportunities, and more,” the spokesperson said.
Last October, Amazon announced it would institute a $15-per-hour minimum wage for warehouse and customer service workers, although several workers predicted that they would ultimately earn less under the updated payscale due to other changes to the compensation structure.
As reported by Bloomberg, the stir Shakopee has been causing is starting to build solidarity within Amazon’s ranks, and not just from other warehouse workers. A number of Amazon employees pushing for the company to make changes to combat climate change – nearly 8,000 of whom signed an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to cut ties with big oil and used their stock grants to force a proposal to that end into the company’s annual shareholder meeting – reportedly intend to fly out to Minnesota to protest in person alongside their coworkers.
It’s unclear if other fulfilment centres plan to strike alongside Shakopee for Prime Day, which this year takes place July 15 and 16, but the idea is being floated on Amazon-specific communities on Reddit.
Facility-wide strikes in Europe have previously not impacted order fulfilment, according to Amazon, which has a logistics network robust enough to redirect work to nearby warehouses or replace striking workers with temps sourced through its Integrity Staffing Solutions arm. Some might see that as union-proofing by design, and at least a few workers seem to finally be considering why a company as big and powerful as Amazon feels so threatened by the idea.