Is Amazon systemically violating the rights of Muslim workers? Three Somali women who work at an Amazon fulfillment center think so. They have filed an EEOC complaint accusing the company of creating a hostile work environment for Muslims and for retaliating when they protested.
For over a year, a nonprofit called the Atwood Center, which receives part of its funding from the Service Employees International Union, has been working to organize East African natives with jobs at Amazon’s center near Minneapolis. The main concerns include the pace of the work, lack of accommodation for daily prayers and a sense that there is little chance for advancement.
A nonprofit legal organization called Muslim Advocates represented the women regarding the EEOC complaint. That complaint alleges systemic violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on religion and other factors.
“We think an E.E.O.C. investigation is a key part of starting the process of holding Amazon accountable,” said an attorney.
The pace of the work is harsh, and it directly contributes to Muslims’ sense of hostility. Each hour, employees are to make a certain “rate” or quota of orders. The rate doesn’t change even during hours when 20-minute breaks are offered. The Somali women claim they were allowed to take extra time to pray, but that their rate was not changed to accommodate the extra time.
According to the New York Times, Amazon spent 4% less last year to fulfill orders even though unit sales were up 10%.
Amazon insists that it does not tolerate discrimination or retaliation. It pointed to the company’s willingness to accommodate workers surrounding the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, where they allowed fasting workers to change shifts and hold a potluck to celebrate the holiday.
Protest actions allegedly resulted in retaliation
Last year, escalating employee actions, including protests and a walkout, brought Amazon to the negotiating table, perhaps for the first time in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the women claim, Amazon retaliated against them for their involvement in a protest last December. After the protest, the women say they were given more challenging work assignments and were improperly issued warnings, which could eventually lead to termination.
They also claim that Amazon instituted a “culture of surveillance after the protest.” For example, one manager pointedly commented that he had noticed a worker’s participation in the protest. Another manager took her photo on his phone while she was working. Management downplayed her concerns when she mentioned the incidents.
Has your employer offered religious accommodations that don’t help? Has it retaliated because you complained? These actions may be illegal. You should talk to an experienced employment law attorney right away.