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Amazon Workers Threaten To Strike On 1st Day Of Retailer's Summer Sale Event


Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota are planning to walk off the job Monday during Amazon's peak sales event. As NPR's Alina Selyukh reports, the employees want better working conditions.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: William Stolz is a picker at a warehouse in Shakopee, outside Minneapolis. All day, he puts together Amazon orders by picking items off giant shelves brought to him by robots.

WILLIAM STOLZ: I'm constantly running back and forth, getting down on my knees, getting up on my ladder over and over again.

SELYUKH: Amazon wants its pickers and packers to work at a particular pace - for example, picking one item every eight seconds or so. Stolz is one of the Shakopee workers who plan to strike to push Amazon to ease these productivity quotas.

STOLZ: Treat us like human beings, not like machines.

SELYUKH: The workers also want Amazon to stop relying on temp workers. They plan to walk out for six hours during Amazon's biggest sales event, Prime Day. Stolz expects about a hundred workers to join the walkout. The facility employs about 1,500. Still, this will be one of the most high-profile labor actions at an Amazon warehouse in the U.S.

Amazon says the allegations are baseless and that it already converts a lot of temps to full-time employees. The company touts its benefits and pay of more than $16 an hour. Stolz says his friends have left the warehouse for lower-paying jobs to escape the physical demands.

For Amazon, the fallout won't be financial, says Marc Wulfraat of the logistics firm MWPVL International.

MARC WULFRAAT: I think the negative impact is more the publicity, the fear that it will snowball, cause other facilities to do the same thing.

SELYUKH: So far, the only other Amazon workers to participate in Monday's protest are a few flying in from the corporate headquarters in Seattle. Two Minnesota lawmakers say they are watching the situation. Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat whose district borders Shakopee, says she stands with Amazon workers fighting for workplace fairness.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

CORNISH: And a note - Amazon is an NPR sponsor. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.