Amazon permanently closed its sort center in Shakopee Friday, with plans to transfer nearly all of the facility’s estimated 680 employees to other nearby Amazon locations.
The online retail giant announced plans in January to shut down the Shakopee facility after its lease expired. The sort center, located at 5825 11th Avenue East, is smaller than Amazon’s fulfillment center, which is also in Shakopee.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development told Sahan Journal that after Amazon offered employees new positions, 71 workers would be laid off.
“Our Twin Cities team worked hard to accommodate any employee who wished to stay with Amazon,” company spokesperson Steve Kelly said via email. “For employees who chose not to stay with Amazon, several steps were taken to make clear what assistance is available, including a minimum of four weeks’ pay.”
Amazon declined to say exactly how many workers it laid off or transferred. It said translation services are being provided to any employee who requests them.
The Awood Center, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that has helped organize local Amazon workers, said that out of the approximately 680 workers whose jobs were terminated at the Shakopee sort center, 609 will be transferred to other facilities in the area.
Amazon said the decision to close the Shakopee sort center was prompted by changing business needs and an effort to improve the Amazon experience for employees, customers, partners, and drivers.
Some labor rights activists have said Amazon closed the facility in retaliation for workers’ organizing efforts, but Amazon has rejected those claims.
Workers at a number of local Amazon facilities, led by staff of East African heritage, have publicly demanded pay raises while criticizing the company for work quotas and workplace conditions. Workers have also said the company refused to give Muslim employees time off to celebrate the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr.
The Awood Center, which focuses on supporting workers of East African heritage, described the transfers as a “big win” for Amazon employees. The center helped organize Shakopee sort center workers’ response to the closure.
“The workers spoke out about their concerns regarding transportation challenges to reach distant warehouses, the lack of adequate translation of the required test and materials related to the process of re-employment at other warehouses, among other significant issues,” the Awood Center said in a prepared statement shared with Sahan Journal.
Earlier this year, Kelly said that all employees at the Shakopee facility would be given the opportunity to transfer within the company and that the closure had nothing to do with “reducing headcount.”
Amazon has 10 operations sites in the Twin Cities area, including three other sort centers, that all operate on the same pay scale, according to the company.
Employees who wanted to transfer were required to take tests, according to the Awood Center. A passing test guaranteed a transfer. According to Amazon, the tests focused on workplace safety.
Employees leaving the company after Friday will receive unemployment benefits.
The Awood Center said that as a result of organizing efforts by the Shakopee workers, Amazon hired interpreters to help with the testing and transfer process, and that workers who transfer will not be “forced” to work the graveyard shift.
“These concessions did not come easily,” the Awood Center statement said. “The hard work of organizing with Awood Center helped turn a scary experience into a powerful victory for the voices of the workers.”