“Workers are constantly worried about getting exposed to Covid, not getting the treatment they need, and bringing it home to their families,” Muse explained.
After the first workers in the Shakopee warehouse tested positive for Covid-19 in late April, at least 25 of their colleagues walked off their shift. One of their key demands was an extension of unpaid time off for workers who didn’t feel safe in the workplace or needed to stay home during the pandemic for family reasons.
Their concerns were hardly unfounded. On October 1, Amazon announced that 19,816 of its frontline workers across the country had tested positive for the virus.
Amazon warehouse workers also face intense everyday physical stress. The Shakopee facility employs roughly 1,000 workers who collect and pack items that zip down a conveyor belt at dizzying speeds.
“When I applied for the job, they said I wouldn’t have to lift anything heavier than 50 pounds,” said Nimo Hirad. “After I was hired I had to lift as much as 80 pounds.”
When Hirad and other women began participating in protests over working conditions, she started getting called into the management office and interrogated.
“We’re not treated as human beings,” she said. “They treat us like robots.”
According to In These Times, the Shakopee facility has one of the highest injury rates among Amazon’s warehouses.
To tighten the screws on employees, Amazon uses an automated monitoring system called “time off task,” which sends workers warnings when they’ve spent too long away from their assignment. The requirements are so stringent that workers take fewer bathroom breaks — bathrooms are often far from workspaces — in order to avoid possible disciplinary action or termination.