Midway through the work day on Monday, the first day of Amazon’s Prime Day sale extravaganza, workers at the company’s distribution center in Shakopee, Minnesota, walked off the job in protest of what they’ve described as unreasonable and unsafe working conditions. It was reportedly the first major strike of Amazon workers in the U.S. during Prime Day, one of the company’s biggest sales events of the year.
This year’s Prime Day, which spans Monday and Tuesday, could rake in an estimated $5.8 billion in sales globally.
“We know Prime Day is a big day for Amazon, so we hope this strike will help executives understand how serious we are about wanting real change that will uplift the workers in Amazon’s warehouses,” Safiyo Mohamed, one of the Minnesota strikers, said in a statement, according to AFP. “We create a lot of wealth for Amazon, but they aren’t treating us with the respect and dignity that we deserve.”
Supporters of the picketers have reminded consumers that buying anything from Amazon on Prime Day would be crossing a digital picket line.
Photos taken outside the Shakopee warehouse show a few dozen protesters holding signs with phrases like “We’re human, not robots.” Some 100 to 200 workers had been expected to join the strike, which lasted six hours starting at 3 p.m. on Monday; but strikers claimed managers had intimidated workers from joining the walkout.
The Minnesota workers weren’t the only ones to use Prime Day as an emphatic way to make their grievances with Amazon known.
Some 2,000 Amazon workers at seven facilities in Germany walked out in protest of poor working conditions and low wages, CNBC reported. Amazon had said earlier that the German strike would not impact deliveries to customers.
Demonstrations also took place in several American cities, including New York, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, where Amazon’s headquarters is located, to press the retail giant to stop selling technology to U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security.
The Seattle Times noted that the U.K., Spain and Poland had Prime Day protests of their own.
Amazon has repeatedly come under scrutiny over the years for subjecting warehouse workers to punishing working conditions, including instituting unreasonable quotas and making it difficult for employees to take adequate breaks or use the restroom.
Earlier this month, late night host John Oliver devoted the majority of his show to calling out the retail giant for its questionable worker policies.
“Over the years, Amazon has been criticized by workers for their unwillingness to accommodate basic human needs like using the bathroom,” Oliver said, later adding that “the more you look at Amazon, the more you realize its convenience comes at a real cost.”
At the Shakopee facility, striking workers have expressed similar complaints.
Meg Brady, a “rebinner” at the warehouse, told The Washington Post this week that she’s expected to handle 600 items per hour ― a physically demanding task that she said caused a stress fracture in her foot.
“They’re working under insane deadlines, often in unsafe conditions,” Liz Shuler of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations said in a statement of the Minnesota workers.
“We’re standing strong in solidarity with the workers in Shakopee and beyond, but we hope you will too. When you stand up together collectively, that is how we change corporate behavior,” she continued.
As CNBC noted, many workers at the Shakopee facility ― the majority of whom are East African ― have also complained that Amazon has been unwilling to accommodate their religious practices and holidays.
Strike organizers said they want Amazon to “provide safe and reliable jobs, increase respect and opportunities for advancement for the predominantly East African workforce” and “protect the right to organize and advocate for better working conditions,” among other demands.
Amazon has pushed back against the strikers and their supporters, claiming they were “conjuring misinformation to work in their favor.”
“[In] fact we already offer the things they purport to be their cause — industry leading pay of $15 per hour, benefits, and a safe workplace for our employees,” the company said in an earlier statement.
An Amazon spokesman told HuffPost on Tuesday that “roughly 15 associates” participated in the Shakopee strike.
“It was obvious to the 1500-full-time workforce that an outside organization used Prime Day to raise its own visibility, conjured misinformation and a few associate voices to work in their favor, and relied on political rhetoric to fuel media attention,” the spokesman said. “The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of the customer experience, and today’s event shows that our associates know that to be true. We encourage anyone to come take a tour anytime.”
Several politicians, including candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have expressed support for the Amazon workers.
“Give ’em hell,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted to the strikers. “Standing in solidarity with you.”
This story has been amended to include a Tuesday statement from Amazon.