Meet the Immigrants Who Took On Amazon

Inside the warehouse, however, things weren’t going as planned. Stolz, who’d arrived around 5:30 that morning to hand out strike flyers in the parking lot, was trying to rally the day shift. He made the rounds of the break rooms, where he saw managers handing out snacks and chatting up employees. People were getting nervous. Some told Stolz they didn’t want to lose their unpaid time off. Others balked when they neared the lobby, where Shakopee Police officers and Amazon’s in-house security team had gathered.
Only a few people trickled out to strike, and Omar gave up on the idea of leading workers away from the warehouse in a parade. According to Awood, about 35 ­people took part in the walkout; Amazon would later say, yet again, that only 15 employees participated and it didn’t see the event as a strike, either. Inside the warehouse, reporters were handed the following press statement:“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,” it read. “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.”
By 4 pm, a stage had been set up across the parking lot. Despite the heat and the poor showing of strikers, the protest took on a festive mood. More than 200 people had gathered. There were trays full of beef sambusas, large thermoses of chai tea, and a performance by a Somali dance troupe; at one point, Hibaq Mohamed jumped into formation with them. Finally an emcee—an Amazon worker named Sahro Sharif—took the stage.“There were a lot of people who were afraid to come out and stand out here today because of the management that’s going on inside,” Sharif declared. “For the ­people that actually came out tonight, I want to say thank you and welcome, and let’s make it great!”
When the speeches were done, Omar and a small group of activists walked back to the warehouse to see if more strikers would emerge. The shifts were changing, and an employee leaving the warehouse looked at the activists disdainfully. “There’s plenty of jobs for you!” he hollered. “There’s Target! There’s UPS! There’s Walmart!”

The air smelled sharply of ozone, and forecasters were now issuing a tornado warning. Omar and her group posed for a selfie in front of the warehouse, and then the sky opened up. Drenched, they hustled back across the parking lot to help break down tables and shade tents.

Today, there is no end in sight to the jousting match between Amazon and Awood. Immediately after the Prime Day strike, 13 members of Congress—led by Representative Ilhan Omar and Senator Bernie Sanders—led a call to investigate Amazon for workplace abuse. Less than a month later, 50 to 80 workers staged a walkout at the Eagan delivery facility, wearing yellow reflective vests and singing “Aan Isweheshano Walaalayaal,” the same anthem Representative Omar had sung the year before.When labor experts characterize what Awood has accomplished overall, they tend to focus not on any specific concessions the group has extracted thus far (which Amazon denies are concessions anyway) but instead on the national attention the group has attracted—and its implications for other workers in warehouses and in tech. Awood bears a certain resemblance not only to worker centers that focus on low-wage industries, but to recent efforts by Google employees and other tech workers to organize themselves and learn labor law without the structure of a union. “Tech workers are in this situation where they’re trying to figure out: Where is their leverage? Where is their ground to stand on? How do you negotiate with an algorithm?” says Fine, the labor scholar at Rutgers. Awood has become one of the prime examples to learn from. Amazon, in other words, is not the only one watching a few Somalis very closely.
Jessica Bruder (@jessbruder) is a New America fellow and the author of Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.This article appears in the December issue. Subscribe now .

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