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Over a dozen Amazon workers and a handful of supporters staged a walkout Tuesday morning at an Eagan warehouse, protesting a planned elimination of their midday shifts.
The workers say about 30 employees at the Amazon Delivery Station Warehouse location are facing layoffs because they can’t switch to late-night shifts. Their last day of work is November 12.
Ethan Kelly, who works in traffic control for Amazon drivers and who is facing a layoff, said Amazon’s decision to eliminate the jobs came after the company found an overabundance of workers on the 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. shift. Amazon gave many employees on the shift a choice to transfer to other warehouses in the Twin Cities metro or to work a 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. shift at the Eagan location.
Workers who don’t choose either option will receive two months of severance pay at a lower rate than their current pay, and the ability to reapply for work at Amazon in the future, said employees at the protest.
Kelly, 38, said all opportunities available to him at other Amazon locations were night shifts, and that he can’t work the hours because he has to take care of his children.
Kelly joined several workers Tuesday who asked Amazon to let them keep work current day hours. Most protesters were East African. The Awood Center, a labor rights organization that supports East African warehouse workers, helped coordinate the protest.
“At the end of the day, I’m losing my job,” Kelly said. “That’s why we’re all out here—we didn’t have any options.”
An Amazon spokesperson told Sahan Journal that the company saw “shifts in orders” at the Eagan warehouse, which led to “the need to make staffing adjustments.”
“Our top priority is keeping the great employees from the Eagan facility with Amazon, which is why our local management worked with these employees to identify other shifts at the facility or nine other sites across the Twin Cities region,” said Steve Kelly, the Amazon spokesperson, in a prepared statement.
The protest began at 9:00 a.m. during shift change and lasted for about 45 minutes. The workers, clad in neon work vests, carried signs, banged pots, and marched to the entrance of the warehouse shouting slogans such as, “No justice, no peace,” and, “No rights, no peace.”
At one point, an Amazon supervisor told attendees who weren’t company employees to leave the area. Organizers tried to give the supervisor a written list of demands, which included “stop forcing unfair work schedules on workers who speak up.” The supervisor said he wasn’t authorized to accept the demands, eliciting boos from the crowd.
Ali Badel, 61, works in traffic control alongside Kelly. He said he also can’t work late hours because he needs to watch his adult son, who is elipeptic and can suffer seizures at night.
Ali said he’s worked at Amazon for three years, and is looking for new work.
Sahra Ali works as a picker, which involves transporting 35 to 40 large boxes from one part of the warehouse to another each hour. Sahra, 41, said a medical condition in her retina affects her eyesight and prevents her from obtaining a driver’s license. She relies on Metro Mobility for transportation to work, and said the agency cannot accommodate her during the night shift.
Sahra, 41, has worked for Amazon for a little over four years. She said some workers have been on the midday shift for a year but will get to stay while more senior colleagues are being forced out. Amazon employees said they don’t know how the company determined which employees would stay and which would be asked to switch shifts or locations.
“Some employees getting laid off have been working here for four years, and people who just started are staying,” Sahra said. “That’s not fair.
Fadumo Muse, 50, also works as a picker on the midday shift. She’s a single mother of five children, and said she can’t work nights. Fadumo said her pleas to management to keep her shift have gone nowhere.
“I try to communicate with them, but they treat me like they don’t care,” she said.
Tuesday’s protest follows similar walkouts that have occurred at Amazon warehouses throughout the Twin Cities over the past few years. All have involved mostly East African workers protesting working conditions such as high workloads, minimal breaks, and a lack of religious accommodations.
Some of the workers who walked out Tuesday speculated that Amazon will recruit them for other jobs during the coming holiday season rush.
“They’re expecting us to leave, and come back for peak and work during the holidays,” Kelly said.
UPDATED: 9:15 am, November 2, with a statement from Amazon.