‘I Feel Like I Almost Died’

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, as of June 22 the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Shakopee, MN had 88 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its 2,500 associates. The news struck an enraged chord among the largely East African workforce. 

On a Wednesday afternoon Zoom press conference, Hibaq Mohamed asserted that it’s likely the number is higher saying, “you can not trust the number of confirmed cases.”

Collectively the group of workers is demanding that Amazon shut down for at least two weeks in order to clean and sanitize the warehouse. They are also calling on the governor to intervene if Amazon continues to ignore their requests for greater protections during the pandemic. Mohamed asserted that “Amazon management needs to be held accountable” 

Shakopee Amazon associate Jamal Omer tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-May and described it as the “worst time in my life.”

Prior to his diagnosis, his position within the warehouse was moved to packing. He didn’t want to work there since the conditions are more crowded. He feared catching the infection and potentially harming his family. He shared that while he complained to the management they were largely unresponsive and he felt forced to go back in order to not lose his job. 

When he wasn’t able to get out of bed due to sickness he used his vacation time and only after he developed a fever was he able to get tested. Eventually, his kids became sick along with his mother. “What happened to me, I don’t want to happen to anyone,” Omer said. 

Associate Suleiman Ahmed would have preferred to stay home as the pandemic raged on but that wasn’t possible. 

During Ramadan, Ahmed was driving home when suddenly he became dizzy and nauseous. Pulling over to rest for 20 minutes he started again, “shaking the whole time” rattling his stick shift and driving 20 mph just to get home. 

““I felt like I almost died,.” Ahmed said. “I came to the grave and back.”

Ahmed noted that when the pandemic started many left their jobs. In response, Amazon hired new workers at a higher rate than normal. The swell of hires created a disorienting environment likely further spreading the disease. One Amazon practice that Ahmed felt spread the deadly disease was if a worker was not meeting their quotas, a faster worker would step in to take over. So Ahmed was expected to jump into another person’s work station immediately without any sanitation measures in between workers. 

Ahmed said he has many coworkers who also fear for their health at work at Amazon but none were willing to speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs.

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the end of April to investigate the firings of two employees who criticized what they called a lack of decisive management by Amazon to protect its employees.

Amazon worker William Stolz noted that “Amazon has tried to hide or downplay the extent of the spread.” They are hoping the public keep applying pressure so that Amazon changes its practices. 

Filiberto Nolasco Gomez is a former union organizer and former editor of Minneapolis based Workday Minnesota, the first online labor news publication in the state. Filiberto focused on longform and investigative journalism. He has covered topics including prison labor, labor trafficking, and union fights in the Twin Cities.

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