Workers: Amazon's Eagan warehouse is too hot for a Ramadan fast

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Pictured: Amazon.com warehouse employees work in Phoenix, in 2013. East African workers at the company's Eagan, Minnesota warehouse say it's too hot there to observe Ramadan. Associated Press

Muslim employees of an Amazon.com warehouse in Eagan say the company's notoriously demanding workload is unsafe, especially for religious adherents trying to work through the month of Ramadan.

Amazon's response: We pay well. Pretty well. Besides, they can cool off when they're on a break.

A small group of employees rallied outside the Eagan facility Monday to communicate a message  to their employer, the second-highest-valued company in the United States (Amazon reported $178 billion revenue, $3 billion profit last year), trailing only Apple.

One way to add to the bottom line is making more money. The other is spending less: Eagan warehouse employees said truck-loading jobs formerly conducted by two people were now performed solo, the Star Tribune reports, in an image that may cause some disquiet upon your next receipt of a package from the delivery behemoth.

Nimo Hirad says it was warm enough in the warehouse she had no choice but to break her Ramadan fast and drink water on two straight days. 

"I got so thirsty, I couldn't even swallow my own saliva," Hirad says, per Minnesota Public Radio.

In response to these complaints, a company spokesman said the facility "is equipped with air conditioning in the break areas and fans throughout the building." Read that quickly, and your mind might join together the words "air conditioning...throughout the building." 

Let's break it apart. There's "air conditioning in the break areas." On a tangentially related note, there are "fans throughout the building." This sounds like a pretty hot place to "walk a good distance around the facility" while repeatedly handling boxes "up to 49 pounds," as described in a "seasonal sortation associate" job posting.

Awood Center, which organized Monday's news conference, says it has received "a couple dozen complaints" in the past couple months, and five reports of workplace injuries.

Amazon's spokesman adds that the Eagan warehouse has a "temporary prayer room" for its East African employees, with a "permanent" one on the way. The company provides a "positive and accomodating workplace at this delivery station, including great pay of more than $15 per hour and benefits," the spokesman says.

This doesn't fit precisely with the experience of Hirad, who's been with the company two years, and says she and other workers warned months ago about difficulties they'd face while fasting for Ramadan. The response from managers, according to Hirad, was: "If you're not able to do the job, quit."

Remember when states and cities -- including Minnesota and the Twin Cities, secretively -- were falling all over themselves to win the "Amazon's second headquarters" sweepstakes? Do you suppose workers in that office will get air conditioning?  


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