SEATTLE — Three Somali ladies working for Amazon close to Minneapolis have accused the corporate of making a hostile surroundings for Muslim employees and of retaliating in opposition to them for protesting their work circumstances, based on a submitting submitted this week to federal regulators.
In a letter with the submitting, Muslim Advocates, a nonprofit authorized group representing the ladies, requested the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to research what they argue are “systemic violations” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legislation prohibits employment discrimination based mostly on faith, amongst different issues.
The federal grievance is the newest escalation in an nearly yearlong dispute between Amazon and East African employees within the space, which has one of the vital organized teams of Amazon warehouse staff within the nation.
“We think an E.E.O.C. investigation is a key part of starting the process of holding Amazon accountable,” stated Nimra Azmi, a lawyer on the case.
An Amazon spokeswoman, Brenda Alfred, stated in an announcement, “Diversity and inclusion is central to our business and company culture, and associates can pray whenever they choose.” However, she stated, “We respect the privacy of employees and don’t discuss complaints publicly.”
In 2016, when Amazon opened a significant achievement heart in Shakopee, a suburb of Minneapolis, it recruited closely from the area’s giant immigrant inhabitants amid low unemployment. At one level it ran buses to the warehouse from a Minneapolis neighborhood often known as Little Mogadishu.
For more than a year, the Awood Center, a nonprofit focused on helping East African workers, has organized the employees around their concerns about the pace of work, accommodations for prayers and what they see as little opportunity for advancement to management. Awood has received funding from grants as well as the Service Employees International Union.
Through a series of escalating actions last year, they became the first known group of workers in the United States to get Amazon management to negotiate. In December, a group protested outside one of the area’s mammoth warehouses. Local press reports estimated that 100 people had attended. And in March, a smaller group walked out on its shift for several hours.
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Muslim Advocates said it had been in touch with Awood since last summer to determine whether there was a legal challenge to raise.
In the letter summarizing their claims, the women said they had faced retaliation since they were involved in the December protest. The workers said they had received difficult work assignments and improper warnings that could lead to firing. Amazon also had a “culture of surveillance after the protest,” Ms. Azmi said.
Muslim Advocates has withheld the women’s names from the public, saying they fear further retaliation. One of the women agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity.
In the interview, the worker said that she had seen her manager looking at social media of the protests, and that he had then commented he noticed she had participated. Another time, a different manager took a photograph of her on his personal phone while she was working, she said, adding that when she complained, management played down her concerns.
According to the letter, one of the other women “has had her everyday conversations repeatedly video recorded by her supervisors.”
“There is zero tolerance for retaliation in the workplace,” Ms. Alfred, the Amazon spokeswoman, said. “We take any reports of retaliation seriously and look into all claims made by our employees.”
Amazon gives the workers paid breaks to pray up to 20 minutes, as required by state law, but the employees are still responsible for maintaining the same “rate,” or how many items they must pack in an hour. Ms. Alfred said workers could take longer prayer breaks without pay, for which productivity expectations would be adjusted.
Missing the rate can lead to write-ups and firing. The women said they and other Muslim workers feared taking time to pray, making it a “hostile environment” to be Muslim.
Ms. Alfred said the company had worked hard to accommodate the annual observance of Ramadan, when many Muslims fast during the day. Amazon consulted Muslim employees and trained managers on the holiday as well as on safety for fasting workers. Employees can trade shifts to work at night, and they held a potluck at the start of the holiday.
The workers say the pressure to produce is consuming. Amazon has been squeezing more profit out of its operations as growth has slowed. Last quarter, the company spent 4 percent less fulfilling orders than a year earlier, even as the number of units sold was up 10 percent.
Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s finance chief, told investors that was largely because Amazon hired fewer workers as it added fewer warehouses than in recent years.
“Right now, we are on a nice path where we are getting the most out of the capacity we have,” he said.
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