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Amazon negotiates with Somali warehouse workers in breakthrough labor win

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More than a year after East African workers started to organize against Amazon, the e-commerce giant is at negotiation table—and the New York Times says it’s an unprecedented move for Amazon.

A Minnesota Public Radio report notes that during a rally of East African warehouse workers in Eagan, Minneapolis, last June, employees were complaining of exhaustion, dehydration, and injuries while working in humid conditions. In addition, the employee rallying said that as a largely Muslim workforce, Amazon is not sensitive about their religious practices. (They are given paid breaks to pray by law, but output considerations aren’t reportedly factored into their breaks.)

But last week their protest was heard as the company offered better facilities in the Minneapolis area. One of those bargains is “hiring a general manager and a Somali-speaking manager to agree on any firings related to productivity rates, designate a manager to respond to individual complaints within five days and meet with workers quarterly,” according to the Times.

Amazon says it’s not a traditional labor negotiation, however, telling the New York Times that the company sees this opportunity as a community engagement, the same as “its outreach efforts with veterans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.”

Awood, a nonprofit group focused on assisting East African worker issues, led the formal meetings and complaints with Amazon. Abdirahman Muse, Awood’s executive director, told the New York Times that, “Nobody would assume a Muslim worker, with limited language skills, in the middle of Minnesota, can be a leader in a viable fight against one of the biggest employers in the world and bring them to the table.”

The dispute continues, however. Over the weekend, a group of workers decided that these compromises are not enough. Their main issue is the pace of the company’s expectation of workforce productivity. As a result, Awood decided to stage a massive protest and walkout on Dec. 14, during the peak of the holiday rush.

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H/T New York Times

Julie Ann Nealega

Julie Ann Nealega

Julie Ann Nealega is a multimedia journalist based in Manila, Philippines. She is a trained investigative reporter with extensive experience in the field as a segment producer and researcher. She’s produced multiple award-winning investigative documentaries with ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs. She's a co-founder of Postcards From Disasters, a social media-driven campaign fighting for the human rights of disaster victims. She's also managing a Philippine organ donation advocacy platform.