January 23, 2022

Vision Cim

Thank Business Its Friday

Minnesota legislators must respond to Amazon’s business model

If you see a package from Amazon this holiday season, I hope you’ll take a minute to think about all the Minnesota workers who had a hand in delivering it. When Amazon arrived in Minnesota six years ago, it promised to provide our state with safe, reliable jobs with dignified wages. Instead, it delivered our communities quite the opposite. Amazon isn’t living up to its promises or the values we hold in Minnesota.

At the warehouses of one of the world’s most profitable companies, Minnesotans are forced to work at a frenetic pace under intense electronic surveillance and the threat of discipline. Workers report pushing themselves to the brink to meet quotas that Amazon changes constantly and sometimes doesn’t even disclose. If they can’t meet their high quotas, workers are penalized or fired. They’re replaced with new employees, and the cycle starts all over again.

Amazon uses this model to amass enormous profits, but the human cost is immense. This is the conclusion of a new report from the National Employment Law Program (NELP), compiled with help from the Awood Center. Constant surveillance, intense pressure and opaque discipline creates a culture of fear at Amazon warehouses in Minnesota. Workers report not having time to eat or use the bathroom due to the relentless pace and the size of these warehouses, where a bathroom or break room may be a quarter mile away. Injury and turnover rates are astronomical, more than double that of non-Amazon warehouses in Minnesota. In Minnesota warehouses, 1 in 9 Amazon workers are injured on the job every year.

We also cannot ignore that it is Black workers, including many East African immigrants, who make up a disproportionate share of Minnesota’s Amazon warehouse workers and bear the brunt of these grueling conditions — all while earning a third less, on average, than their white co-workers. Amazon is hurting, not helping, efforts to address our state’s racial disparities.

When you put all this together, a jarring picture emerges. Amazon’s business model maximizes profit by treating Minnesotans as disposable. The company uses and discards people at an alarming rate, with seemingly no regard for workers’ health, economic security and well-being, or for the impact on local communities.

As Amazon expands its presence in Minnesota, it’s important for the Legislature to take a closer look at the human cost of the company’s practices. When the legislative session convenes in January, the House will hold public hearings so current and former Amazon workers can share their experiences and concerns. We need to listen to what workers are sharing with us, then act. It’s our job to ensure the health, safety and dignity of every worker in Minnesota, and I plan to introduce legislation to do just that for our warehouse workers.

Workers are safer when they have a voice at work, and communities are stronger when workers’ voices are heard and respected. My goal is to help empower workers with the legal protections and information they need to protect themselves and their co-workers. The legislation I introduce will include requirements that warehouse workers be notified in advance of quotas or workspeeds that may be used to assess and discipline them. It’ll also ensure workers get adequate rest, including breaks to eat and use the bathroom. As we hear from Minnesota workers, I’ll further shape this legislation to address issues and needs they bring forward.

Amazon has the resources to improve conditions in its warehouses; provide safe, good-paying jobs to Minnesotans, and deliver for their customers. The company has made billions of dollars during the pandemic, but workers who risked their health to ensure Amazon could keep us safe by delivering packages to our doorsteps aren’t benefiting from that growth.

Minnesotans working in Amazon warehouses are heading into the busiest time of the year. For the next few weeks, they’ll be working nonstop to deliver the gifts people are waiting for and process returns. As community members and consumers, we should expect that our fellow Minnesotans are compensated fairly for this work, are safe on the job and have economic security. I’ll work hard to hold Amazon and other corporations to this standard and to ensure that every Minnesotan has access to a good job in a safe and equitable workplace.

Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota House.