Somali Muslim Workers Have Filed Federal Discrimination Complaint Against Amazon
Photo Credit: An Amazon warehouse and distribution center located in Shelby Township, Michigan.

Somali Muslim Workers Have Filed Federal Discrimination Complaint Against Amazon

Three Somali Muslim women in Minnesota have filed a federal complaint alleging that they experienced racial and religious discrimination while working in Amazon warehouses.

In a letter originally reported by The New York Times, civil rights group Muslim Advocates outlined some of the women’s experiences for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The complaint alleges that Amazon failed to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of its Muslim employees. The letter noted three women feared taking time to break their fast, pray or perform ablution, or take bathroom breaks.

At Amazon, employees are expected to make “rate,” or “unpack and repack a certain number of products in an hour,” an employee told Gawker.

“Lost time would reduce a worker’s ‘rate’ or how many items a worker packs per hour,” the letter said. “Employees who regularly fell short of the rate — simply because they attempted to observe their religious obligations to pray —faced repercussions such as ‘write-ups’ that could lead to termination.”

In addition, Muslim employees had difficulty maintaining their fast during Ramadan while also trying to keep up with the “high rate demanded by Amazon.” During Ramadan, many Muslims abstain from food and water from pre-sunrise to sunset.

“Ms. B received her first write-up for falling below the rate during Ramadan, when she was refraining entirely from food or drink,” the letter said. “The charges detail that workers did not receive sufficient time to even timely break their day-long Ramadan fasts; workers also reported being told by Amazon management to quit when they requested time off for Eid al-Fitr, one of the most important Muslim holidays.”

Along with religious discrimination, the employees claim that Amazon “regularly passed over” Somali and East African workers for promotions. White workers would receive better duty assignments and treatment than their Somali co-workers “solely on the basis of their race and/or their national origin.”

This is not the first time Black Muslim workers in Minnesota have spoken up about their mistreatment in Amazon’s warehouses. In December 2018, Vox reported on East African immigrant workers from Minnesota rallying against Amazon.

The three women took an active role in those protests and claim they’ve now faced retaliatory harassment. All three women have pre-textual write-ups, which are a step towards termination. One woman claims that her everyday conversations are repeatedly video recorded by her supervisors.

“The charges show that Amazon’s message to Somali workers has been clear: since they protested Amazon’s discriminatory actions, Amazon management would now create an environment so harassing and hostile that they would be forced to quit,” the letter said.

Over the past few years, anti-Muslim bias incidents across the nation have increased. The Council for American-Islamic Relations recorded a 17 percent rise from 2016 to 2017, with employment discrimination included among the top five types of abuse.

In Minneapolis, Amazon made great efforts to recruit within the Cedar-Riverside community, the Somali-hub sometimes referred to as “Little Mogadishu.” The company even began sending coach buses to the neighborhood to take employees to warehouses in Shakopee.

Muslim Advocates are calling on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to open an investigation into the complaints.