Packages passed down a conveyor belt before receiving a shipping label at Amazon in Shakopee, Minn.

Packages passed down a conveyor belt before receiving a shipping label at Amazon in Shakopee, Minn. (Anthony Souffle/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Some Amazon workers in Shakopee, Minn., began a strike to protest work conditions this afternoon, during the first of a two-day Prime Day sale that's one of its biggest promotions.

The strike is one of the first times workers in the U.S. have challenged Amazon through a work stoppage.

The protest is one of the latest actions organized by the Awood Center, a Minneapolis-based group that advocates for the workers. The group has been pushing for safer work conditions.

One of its principal complaints is that workers are asked to work too fast, and sometimes get hurt or are overworked, in order to make Amazon's industry-leading fast deliveries possible. The workers are also asking for the right to organize as well as better advancement opportunities and quicker transitions from temporary to full-time worker status,

The strikers were expected to be joined by some technology workers from Amazon's Seattle headquarters who have been pushing the company to improve its environmental record and to do more to fight climate change.

Amazon officials have said they do not expect disruptions to customer shipments as a result of the strike in Shakopee. A spokesperson noted that most Shakopee workers are not planning to strike and that other fulfillment centers across the country stand ready to ensure a smooth workflow.

Amazon's 885,000-square-foot Shakopee fulfillment center is one of about 75 Amazon has around the country. It employs about 1,500 workers.

"The fact is Amazon offers already what this outside organization is asking for," Brenda Alfred, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in an e-mail, noting that pay ranges from $16.25 to $20.80 an hour with comprehensive benefits. "We encourage anyone to compare our pay, benefits, and workplace to other retailers and major employers in the Shakopee community and across the country - and we invite anyone to see for themselves by taking a tour of the facility."

She said about 90% of Amazon workers in Shakopee are full time and more than 100 temporary workers have been converted to full-time positions so far this year, with 30 more offered such roles in the last week.

She added that worker performance is measured and evaluated over a "long period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour." Amazon's policy is that more than 75% of workers should exceed rate expectations before changes are considered and those who are not performing at that level are given dedicated coaching to help them improve, she said.

Among those expressing support for the Amazon workers' strike on Monday was Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren who tweeted, "Their fight for safe and reliable jobs is another reminder that we must come together to hold big corporations accountable."

A rally with supporters and elected officials is planned for later this afternoon. Among those planning to attend is Capt. Michael Russo of the Teamsters Local 1224 who represents pilots who make deliveries for Amazon Air. Those pilots, who work for Atlas Air, Southern Air and ABX Air, have also been raising their voices about being overworked and underpaid. They launched a digital ad campaign on Monday to raise awareness about their issues.

On Monday, Amazon workers in Germany, who have been agitating for better pay and working conditions, also went on strike.

Kavita Kumar - 612-673-4113

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

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