Minnesota Makes History: A Major Win for Amazon’s Migrant Workforce

Hey there, folks! In a groundbreaking step, Minnesota lawmakers have revolutionized the rights of Amazon warehouse workers through legislation that is nothing short of a triumph for the hard-working migrants in the region.

Let’s chat about the Warehouse Worker Protection Act. Approved on May 16, it is, in essence, a beacon of hope and security for all Amazon warehouse employees, especially for the Somali immigrant community, which makes up a significant portion of the state’s population.

For one of them, Khali Jama, a former worker at Amazon’s Shakopee fulfillment center, the legislation is a sigh of relief. Jama, a Somali Muslim immigrant, witnessed the struggle for equity within these warehouse facilities firsthand. This bill was a victory she had fought for, rallying, educating, and staging walkouts with her colleagues.

Jama experienced the corporate might of Amazon, often marked as a “troublemaker” by her managers for her activism. But her spirit remained undeterred. “Why are they spending all this time pushing me if they’re so powerful?” she pondered. This resistance only emboldened her struggle against the corporate giant.

The Warehouse Worker Protection Act carries with it a slew of vital protections for workers, including measures to investigate employers with unusually high occupational injuries. With Amazon’s warehouses notoriously infamous for worker injuries, this couldn’t be more timely. According to the Strategic Organizing Center’s (SOC) report, Amazon’s injury rate in 2022 was a staggering 6.6 per 100 workers, over twice the rate of non-Amazon warehouses.

“Amazon can’t keep this up and expect workers or the government or the public to tolerate it forever,” warns Eric Frumin, the health and safety director at the SOC. Indeed, Amazon’s unrealistic production requirements and blatant disregard for worker health have resulted in a surge of injuries, leading many workers to live in constant fear of termination or loss of pay.

Take the story of Abdullahi Abdi, a Minneapolis warehouse worker, for instance. He recalls how Amazon would often withhold pay for injured employees, forcing them to return to work despite not being fully recovered. But thanks to the new legislation, he sees hope for a secure future. “We are looking for a better place to work every day where it is equal for all employees,” he asserts.

In addition, the bill ensures that workers’ quotas are provided in their preferred languages and protects their right to take necessary breaks. This includes meal breaks, prayer breaks, and bathroom breaks.

Jama recounts how, during her time at Amazon, she felt the need to assist migrant workers grappling with language barriers. This was particularly evident during the quick orientation where English was the primary language, leaving many Somalis, some of whom were in the U.S. for just 30 days, unable to understand the proceedings. She also witnessed the denial of prayer breaks to Muslim workers, especially during important religious holidays.

This lack of understanding and respect for workers’ rights pushed Jama and Abdi to work alongside the Awood Center, an organization striving to empower East African workers in the Twin Cities area. Their focus was on raising awareness about the Warehouse Worker Protection Act among as many workers as possible.

Despite their recent victory, they are aware that the journey is not over. It’s crucial that they keep the momentum going and inform workers about their newfound protections, even as they brace themselves for the possible challenges in enforcing the legislation.

But there’s optimism in the air. The success of the Warehouse Worker Protection Act in Minnesota shows the potential for worker-driven change and serves as an inspiration for other states to follow suit. It’s high time we stand together and supports these champions of worker rights in their battle against the odds. Because after all, they aren’t “troublemakers”. They’re our everyday heroes.