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Decrying Low Wages, Poor Working Conditions, and Support for ICE, Labor Advocates Call for Prime Day Boycott as Amazon Workers Walk Out

"While Amazon fuels bargain-hunting on Prime Day with hefty discounts, employees are being deprived of a living wage."

 Sherry Betz, packs items into small boxes at Amazon's Fulfillment Center on March 19, 2019 in Thornton, Colorado. (Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

As Amazon encourages consumers to buy discounted items during the tech giant's 48-hour "Prime Day" sale, labor rights advocates are urging support instead for warehouse employees who plan to stage the company's first major strike in the United States.

Employees at Amazon's fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota are planning a work stoppage beginning Monday afternoon. Day shift workers will walk off the job three hours early while night shift employees will come in three hours late, to protest what they say are long working hours, insufficient breaks, and unrealistic packing quotas.

Protests against the company's business practices and support for the Trump administration's anti-immigration agenda are scheduled to take place in at least seven cities as critics call on the public to show solidarity with the workers in Shakopee.

"Amazon—the world's most valuable company—exploits workers, evades taxes, destroys the environment, undermines democracy, and creates tech that fuels police, the military, and ICE," tweeted the New York chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, asking users to boycott Prime Day. "This is the function of capitalism laid bare—profit over people."

As Common Dreams has reported, workers in Amazon's fulfillment centers are forced to pack hundreds of items per hour, sometimes making bathroom breaks impossible and leading to injuries.

Workers in Shakopee, many of whom are from the area's East African Muslim community, previously convinced Amazon spokespeople to sit down for negotiations over whether the employees could take prayer breaks, in accordance with state law, without being penalized. The meetings took place last year, but employees say Amazon didn't sufficiently reduce workloads.

"We're organizing to demand Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos create a safe and humane working environment, slow down the pace of work to reasonable speeds, and respect their fundamental right to organize." 
—Joseph Geervarghese, Our Revolution
"The biggest ask we have is to have Amazon reduce the speeds that we have to work," employee William Stolz told Engadget on Monday. "It is physically, mentally exhausting. That leads into other issues like injuries, since you have to do things very fast, and with repetitive motions, all day long." 

In an email to supporters, Joseph Geervarghese of Our Revolution wrote that the national grassroots organization is partnering with workers to demand that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ensures a safe workplace for employees.

"Amazon's record with workers is shameful," Geervarghese wrote, citing a survey which found that "74 percent of Amazon workers skip going to the bathroom to avoid having their pay cut, and over 80 percent said they would never apply for another Amazon job again."

"We're organizing to demand Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos create a safe and humane working environment, slow down the pace of work to reasonable speeds, and respect their fundamental right to organize," he added, asking supporters to sign a petition calling on Bezos to stop exploiting the employees who have helped make him one of the richest people on the planet.

A group of employees at the company's Seattle headquarters, who have previously called on Amazon to adopt a bold climate action plan and set ambitious targets for emission reductions, are also joining the Shakopee strike in solidarity with the warehouse workers. Injustices in the workplace, they said in a statement posted on Medium, play a role in corporations' long history of contributing to the climate crisis.

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"Lending our support to our coworkers in Minnesota is a natural part of our climate justice priorities," wrote Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. "We cannot create a sustainable, long-term approach to addressing the climate crisis without addressing the structural racial and economic inequities that are part of our system of extraction—of energy, material, and human labor—that has caused the crisis."

In Germany, more than 2,000 workers at Amazon fulfillment centers began a two-day strike Sunday night, calling for "no more discount on our incomes."

German employees have gone on strike several times in recent years over low wages and poor working conditions similar to those in the United States.

"While Amazon fuels bargain-hunting on Prime Day with hefty discounts, employees are being deprived of a living wage," a German employee, Orhan Akman, told Reuters.

On social media, labor rights advocates called on consumers to boycott Amazon during the Prime Day sales, along with Whole Foods, Kindle, Audible, Goodreads, and other subsidiaries of the $800 billion multinational corporation to show support for employees all over the world.

"Amazon has its tentacles into so many businesses it's jaw dropping," tweeted writer Justine Larbalestier.

Protests against the company were planned outside its offices in Seattle and San Francisco, while demonstrators in New York gathered at Bezos's luxury apartment building to deliver 270,000 signatures in support of workers' rights and demanding that Amazon cut ties with ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.

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