Amazon.com Inc. warehouse workers in Minnesota plan to strike during the online retailer’s summer sales extravaganza, a sign that labor unrest persists even after the company committed to paying all employees at least $15 an hour last year.
Workers at a Shakopee, Minnesota, fulfillment center plan a six-hour work stoppage July 15, the first day of Prime Day. Amazon started the event five years ago, using deep discounts on televisions, toys and clothes to attract and retain Prime members, who pay subscription fees in exchange for free shipping and other perks.
“Amazon is going to be telling one story about itself, which is they can ship a Kindle to your house in one day, isn’t that wonderful,” said William Stolz, one of the Shakopee employees organizing the strike. “We want to take the opportunity to talk about what it takes to make that work happen and put pressure on Amazon to protect us and provide safe, reliable jobs.”
"The fact is Amazon offers already what this outside organization is asking for," the company said in an emailed statement. Amazon provides competitive hourly rates ranging from $16.25 to $20.80, with benefits, "and we invite anyone to see for themselves by taking a tour of the facility" in Shakopee, the company added.
In Europe, where unions are stronger, Amazon workers routinely strike during big shopping events like Prime Day and Black Friday. Until now, Amazon’s U.S. workers haven’t walked off the job during key sales days. About 250 union pilots who haul packages for Amazon and DHL Worldwide Express staged a brief strike in the lead-up to Thanksgiving in 2016 before a federal judge ordered them back to work, eliminating any disruptions during the peak holiday shopping season.
While the planned strike will affect just one of Amazon’s more than 100 U.S. warehouses, which typically employ a couple of thousand people, the unrest coincides with increasing political pressure on the company and could embolden workers elsewhere.
As one of the world’s most valuable companies -- led by Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person -- Amazon has become a symbol of income inequality. Critics say it benefits from tax breaks to build warehouses but pays workers so little that some are forced to seek government assistance for basic needs like food and health care. The pledge to pay $15 an hour didn’t happen until the company had weathered attacks from politicians such as presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who proposed a “Stop BEZOS” act that would have imposed a tax on companies like Amazon to make up for the cost of government benefits like Medicaid for their employees. Read more at Bloomberg