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Roughly two dozen employees of Pinnacle Logistics, an Amazon contractor, picketed outside the company’s warehouse in Eagan on Tuesday morning instead of punching in for work.
The action came after a similar walkout by about 15 workers Monday afternoon following an alleged anti-Muslim comment made by a Pinnacle supervisor. Most of the employees who walked out from the job on both Monday and Tuesday are East African.
The incident on Monday occurred as a group of women employees went on break for one of their five daily prayers. A supervisor confronted them and asked where they were going. When they said to pray, the supervisor allegedly responded: “That’s bullshit, I’m tired of you all going to pray all the time.”
The women told coworkers Barjas Rwaili and Mustafa Karama, who both work handling packages for the company, about the incident. Together, Rwaili, Karama, and the women reported the alleged incident to their bosses.
Rwaili said this prompted the general manager to speak with the supervisor who allegedly made the comment. Instead of taking the matter seriously, Rwaili said he saw his general manager come out of the meeting laughing. That’s when around 15 employees left their shift in outrage.
“That basically triggered everything, because there’s been a lot of this before,” Rwaili said. “We decided that’s it, we have to leave.”
A spokesperson with Worldwide Flight Services, which acquired Pinnacle Logistics earlier this year, told Sahan Journal that the company is investigating the matter and taking the employees’ concerns seriously. The spokesperson added that the company also “placed one supervisor on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
“Our organization has a strong track record of providing a warm and welcoming environment for our diverse, global workforce and are confident we can work through any issues,” the spokesperson said.*
Rwaili, 27, said the incident was just the latest in a line of similar comments from supervisors and managers criticizing Muslims and Somalis. Rwaili alleges that one month ago, he heard his general manager say he’s tired of hiring Muslim employees “because they’re paid too much and slow his operation.”
The actions by Pinnacle Logistics employees follow similar walkouts over the past few years by East African employees at the Amazon facility in Shakopee decrying poor working conditions.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based Pinnacle Logistics is best known as a contractor for Amazon, handling the online retail giant’s air freight. The French conglomerate cargo handler Worldwide Flight Services acquired Pinnacle Logistics in September.
Pinnacle Logistics’s employees prepare packages for delivery at the warehouse and the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport. A typical shift for a warehouse worker lasts around nine hours, while split shifts between the airport and the warehouse are shorter, Karama said. Inside the warehouse, typically 25 people work during a shift, Rwaili added.
On Tuesday morning, a group of employees gathered in the parking lot of the Eagan warehouse before the start of the 10:30 am shift. Some gathered quickly-made signs with slogans like, “Stop Discriminating Against Us,” “Stop the Hostile Language at Work,” and “Respect Our Faith.” They walked to the entrance of the warehouse, while a smaller group, including Rwaili and Karama, went inside to hand deliver a letter to management.
“We have been experiencing racial and religious discrimination and a hostile workplace, including the incident yesterday,” read the letter, signed by 20 employees.
The letter called for an end to religious and racial discirmination in the workplace, respect for “our culture and our faith,” the resolving of an alleged incident of sexual harassment, and “satisfactory medical care for injured employees.”
After the smaller group finished speaking with management, they came outside and announced an agreement for the picketers to return to work the following day. They quoted management as saying representatives of the company’s human resources department would be on hand Wednesday to investigate the supervisor’s alleged anti-Muslim comment made earlier this week.
Rwaili knows he wants at least one thing to come from the investigation: “I want them held accountable for what they say.”
*Update (6:30 p.m., December 14): This story has been changed to include a response from Pinnacle Logistics.