As a “rebinner” at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minn., Meg Brady’s task is a test of speed and stamina. Items ordered by customers arrive unwrapped on conveyor belts, and rebinners must pick them up, group them into an order, and send them through a cubby hole to be packed by workers on the other side, she said.
During 10-hour workdays that start at 6:30 a.m., Brady, 55, said she must move roughly 600 items an hour, pushing buttons to log their passage. Lagging behind could mean risking warnings or getting fired, she said.
But on Monday, when Amazon kicks off its Prime Day events featuring steep discounts, Brady will be among roughly 100 workers from the Shakopee facility who will walk out during a planned six-hour strike beginning in the afternoon, to protest what they say are overly demanding working conditions. News of the strike was first reported by Bloomberg News.
“Our number-one concern is the production rates,” Brady said in an interview. “It causes repetitive stress injuries, and problems for people who can’t meet the production rates.”
A spokeswoman for Amazon said Friday that its productivity targets have been the same since November, and that the company assesses workers “over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour.”
“We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve,” the company said Friday.
Amazon’s Prime Day deals will start Monday at 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, and go on for two days, according to the company. Brady said the workers timed the strike for Monday, when they believe their absence would have the most impact as warehouses are pushed to grind at full capacity.
Amazon says it has already given the workers what they’ve asked for, that it pays workers at the Shakopee facility between $16.25 and $20.80 an hour, and offers benefits including up to 20 weeks of parental leave.
“We encourage anyone to compare our pay, benefits and workplace to other retailers and major employers in the Shakopee community and across the country — and we invite anyone to see for themselves by taking a tour of the facility,” Amazon said in a statement.
Even as Amazon has signaled plans to invest $700 million in retraining many of its staff, the Shakopee employees aren’t alone in their complaints about working conditions at the retailer’s warehouse. Their claims echo concerns raised by other workers in other ongoing discrimination complaints and wage lawsuits.
In May, a group of black Muslim workers at the Shakopee facility filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming that the company’s production quotas didn’t give them enough time to pray. The complaint, which also makes other discrimination and retaliation claims, seeks to represent potentially hundreds of workers of Somali and East African origin at the facility, according to Nimra Azmi, a staff attorney at the civil rights advocacy group Muslim Advocates, who is working on the case. The organization says that a significant percentage of the 1,500 full-time employees working at the Shakopee fulfillment center are of Somali and East African origin.
“We continue to hope that Amazon will listen to these workers, and heed what’s being said in these charges and take them seriously,” said Azmi.
An Amazon spokeswoman said Friday that the company pays for prayer breaks that are less than 20 minutes long and that workers can request unpaid prayer breaks longer than 20 minutes and that it will adjust their production requirements accordingly.
“Diversity and inclusion is central to our business and company culture, and associates can pray whenever they choose,” the spokeswoman said.
Complaints with the EEOC are often a required rite of passage for employees before they can take their employer to court for alleged discrimination or retaliation. Such claims are governed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of traits including sex, race and religion, and which the agency enforces.
Many states also have their own agencies that act as counterparts to the EEOC, and enforce corresponding state civil rights laws. Workers sometimes also file a complaint with their state civil rights agency before going to court.
Other Amazon warehouse workers are challenging the retailer in federal courts.
In California, warehouse workers plan to ask a federal court to certify a class of Amazon workers in the state who claim the retailer’s work requirements effectively denied them their full meal and rest breaks and underpaid them for overtime work. Warehouse employees work 11- to 12-hour shifts during certain high-demand periods before the holiday season, according to their complaint.
“We’re looking forward to vindicating our clients’ rights in court,” said Peter Dion-Kindem, an attorney for plaintiffs in that case.
Amazon declined to comment on pending litigation.
In another group of cases in Kentucky federal court, Amazon employees from states including Pennsylvania, Nevada and California have accused the retailer of not paying them for the time they spend having their bags checked after their shifts, a common practice among retailers to prevent theft.
The suits make claims under various state wage laws, since the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 in Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc. v. Busk that the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law on wages and overtime pay, doesn’t cover time spent on such security screenings.
Amazon has said the time spent on such checks is minimal.
“I can share that our data shows employees typically walk through security with little or no wait, and Amazon has a global process that is designed to ensure the time employees spend waiting in security is less than 90 seconds,” an Amazon spokeswoman said Friday.
But a number of plaintiffs in these cases have claimed it takes them about 25 minutes daily, including the time it takes to wait in line for the security screenings, according to court filings.
“We think it’s extremely unfair that workers not be paid for time associated with security screenings, because that’s time that they’re forced to be in the warehouse premises and away from their families,” said Pete Winebrake, an attorney for a group of Amazon warehouse workers in Pennsylvania.
“And we believe under Pennsylvania law, that the workers are entitled to be paid for that time,” he said.