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Awood Center: Amazon’s closing sorting center because of workers’ support for Minnesota bill

(The Center Square) – A Minneapolis nonprofit that advocates for East African workers alleges Amazon decided to close its Awood sorting center in a nearby city because workers support a Minnesota bill that Amazon doesn’t like.

In a letter shared with  KSTP-TV, Amazon told the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development the closure of the sorting center in Shakopee would impact 680 employees.

Amazon spokesperson Steve Kelly said the lease is expiring at the center and all employees at the facility are being offered transfer opportunities to facilities in or around the Twin Cities or support if they choose not to continue working for the company, Southwest News Media reported.

Employees are due to be permanently laid off otherwise, effective March 31, the letter uploaded said.

“We believe that Amazon’s decision to close this facility is wrong and retaliatory based on the powerful efforts of workers who have been organizing with the Awood Center and demanding better working conditions, particularly through their advocacy for the warehouse safety bill in the Minnesota Legislature,” The Awood Center said in a Facebook post earlier this week. “Amazon strongly opposed the warehouse safety bill last session, and it is now on the verge of passing.”

Assistant Majority Leader State Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, is co-authoring the bill, HF 36. Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Erin Murphy is the chief author of the companion bill in the Senate, SF 58. Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, is the sole Republican who has signed on as an author of the SF 58.

The bills require companies to tell nonexempt warehouse employees in writing the quotas they must meet and how work standards will be measured. Companies can’t fire employees who fail to meet quotas that the employee didn’t know about, and employees must have enough break time to eat, rest, pray and follow health and safety standards. Employees may also ask for their past three months of work speed data and the past six months of aggregated work speed data for their peers at the same site. The Commissioner of Labor and Industry receives $240,000 in fiscal year 2024 and $218,000 in fiscal year 2025 from the Workers’ Compensation Fund to enforce the written description measure and the work speed data measure. The commissioner will investigate companies that have at least 30% higher incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses compared with the year’s average incidence rate.

Tabke said in a statement that the bill provides transparency to the performance standards of warehouses like Amazon’s, while prioritizing workers’ safety.

“When 680 Minnesotans lose their jobs as the result of a decision made by a corporate giant, they deserve answers, economic security, and common decency,” Tabke said. “The Shakopee community and its workers have been a boon for Amazon and Jeff Bezos, but this seems to be another example of one of the richest companies and individuals in the world tossing aside the labor that has made them so successful.”

The Awood Center on Jan. 30 demanded that if Amazon won’t refrain from closing the facility, the company transfers workers to nearby Amazon warehouses so they can keep their jobs.

On April 29, 2022, Amazon employees walked out on their jobs because they wanted voluntary time off for the Muslim holiday Eid and a $3 wage increase they had during the peak worker shortage, according to The Awood Center.

The sorting center is about two miles east of the MSP1 fulfillment center that Shakopee agreed to support with about $5.77 million in road improvements through tax increment financing, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported in 2015. However, Shakopee declined to give the company the additional $1.2 million in direct subsidies Amazon had also requested, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported in another May 2015 article. Tabke was Shakopee’s mayor that year.

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