Minnesota Enacts Landmark Protections for Amazon Warehouse Workers

Minnesota Enacts Landmark Protections for Amazon Warehouse Workers

Minnesota Enacts Landmark Protections for Amazon Warehouse Workers

Passed over strenuous opposition from the company, the new law is the fruit of a long campaign by Amazon workers and the local community.

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Minneapolis, Minn.—Yesterday, the Minnesota Senate passed the strongest Amazon warehouse worker protection bill in the nation. The Warehouse Worker Protection Act, Minnesota House Bill HF36 / SF58, makes sure that a company like Amazon cannot come into our communities and disregard the safety of its workers or rob Minnesotans of their health and livelihood.

Minnesota has learned the hard way about the human cost of Amazon’s soaring profits and the company’s ever-expanding footprint. After Amazon arrived in the state eight years ago, the company imported its high-tech business model and dangerous management practices that have made its warehouses one of the most unsafe places to work in Minnesota. Inside Minnesota warehouses, Amazon’s injury and turnover rates are astronomical. There is one injury on the job for every nine Amazon warehouse workers every year. This is twice the rate of injury at non-Amazon warehouses in Minnesota, and more than four times the rate at private industries.

These high injury rates are directly attributable to how Amazon manages workers in their warehouses, enforcing an excessively rapid pace of work through the system of electronic surveillance and discipline that Amazon has pioneered. Workers tell us that they push themselves to the brink, racing against a machine with quotas set by algorithms that treat them like robots, not like human beings. And while this is a problem across Amazon warehouses, in Minnesota, the problem is 30 percent higher than the national average.

The Warehouse Worker Protection Act has the power to change this. The bill requires employers to provide warehouse workers with written information about all quotas and performance standards they are subject to, in addition to how those quotas and standards are determined. Employers must provide this information in the worker’s primary language—a crucial requirement for warehouses in our state, where more than 86,000 Somali-born immigrants and family members live.

Importantly, the bill also stipulates that employers cannot fire or take disciplinary action against a worker who fails to meet a quota that wasn’t disclosed, disarming one of the primary excuses Amazon may use to punish or fire workers who seek better conditions or organize. The bill also mandates that if Amazon or a particular worksite has a rate of injury 30 percent higher than that year’s industry average, the Minnesota commissioner of labor and industry will open an investigation.

Finally, the bill establishes a private right of action for workers—meaning current or former workers can bring a civil suit for damages and injunctive relief to obtain compliance with this law. And this bill doesn’t just cover Amazon workplaces—it applies to all warehouses with more than 250 workers at a site or 1,000 across the state.

It cannot be overstated to what extent this worker bill, when enforced, will fundamentally change the experience of working in Minnesota—especially in Amazon warehouses. It will reduce injuries and give workers the power to keep themselves and their coworkers safe. By requiring disclosure of quotas and the factors Amazon uses to decide them, we create more opportunities to hold Amazon accountable for unreasonable quotas and pace of work.

This bill will also improve conditions for workers to organize. As Amazon worker organizer Khali Jama explained, “Amazon uses fear to control its workers. They use surveillance to fire and hire new workers seemingly every week, making workers constantly afraid of losing their job. Instead of speaking up against Amazon’s invasive surveillance and harsh punishment, workers are forced to endure the abuse and exploitation without speaking up, out of fear of being fired.”

But this bill wasn’t passed overnight. Workers have taken huge risks to raise the alarm on safety issues. Since 2017, East African workers have been organizing with the Awood Center to fight for better pay and conditions on the job at Amazon. In a 2018 victory, workers successfully organized for and won concessions from Amazon, including regular meetings with management, access to Somali-speaking management, and responses to individual worker complaints. That year, workers also won time off for Eid and a prayer room on-site, complete with prayer rugs. Since then, workers have organized tirelessly for better pay and conditions.

At every turn, Amazon has aggressively fought back. Amazon has fired numerous workers who spoke out about their conditions and workers who tried to organize their colleagues. The corporation closed one of its oldest sorting centers in Shakopee and dispersed those workers, in what appeared to be retaliation for past organizing, and a warning to discourage future organizing.

Still, worker organizing prevailed. Amazon’s strategy of hiring working class migrants who are non–Native English speakers has only emboldened our community to stand up and fight back. When Amazon arrived in the state, the company targeted East African immigrants with job advertisements. Amazon even ran buses for workers to commute to their facilities from Cedar-Riverside in Minneapolis, otherwise known as Little Mogadishu. Advertising efforts were in the Somali language as well, an ironic detail considering the company’s reluctance to provide Somali-speaking management for its workers.

While Amazon might have sought to exploit and retaliate against workers in our communities, workers organizing with Awood Center and beyond have been challenging its ability to do so—because as Amazon hires more and more workers, our strength in numbers becomes all the more powerful. In this way, Amazon workers in our state have organized, fought, and won victories, like the passage of this bill. And they’re just getting started.

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