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Amazon's Prime Day Marked With Competing Sales And High Profile Walkout

Jul 15, 2019
Originally published on July 15, 2019 7:45 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Since Amazon launched Prime Day in 2015, it has grown into an industry-wide event. More than 200 retailers this week are offering online sales. This year's Prime Day, though, is also shining a light in the U.S. on what it takes to fulfill all these sales. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Minnesota are staging a walkout. NPR's Alina Selyukh has more.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Just five years ago, summer was still a lull for stores. In between Memorial Day and Labor Day sales, Americans tend to spend less time shopping and more time applying sunscreen on the beach, sipping cool drinks on patios and taking road trips. But now, what started as Amazon's marketing maneuver, is officially a full-blown no-store-left-behind-midsummer-shopping holiday.

TAYLOR SCHREINER: It's sort of like the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So it's not enormous in that context, but compared to the rest of the year, it's pretty huge.

SELYUKH: Taylor Schreiner is an analyst at Adobe Digital Insights. He says now that Prime Day is a two-day affair, Americans are expected to spend more than $4 billion in online shopping over today and tomorrow. The money will flow to both Amazon and its rivals.

SCHREINER: We expect large retailers to see, on average, about a 79% lift in their sales over this period.

SELYUKH: Some 250 different stores have sales this week, including Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Macy's. And just like in the crazy months of winter holiday shopping, on the other side of these new summer sales are tens of thousands of workers putting in longer and tougher hours as they gather, sort, pack and deliver all the orders Americans are making with a tap of a finger on a phone screen.

WILLIAM STOLZ: We're doing very repetitive tasks over and over, overuse of certain muscles and nerves.

SELYUKH: William Stolz works at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, near Minneapolis. About 100 workers there plan a work stoppage today over about six hours. The Shakopee workers are demanding better working conditions - for example, slower speed quotas, which tend to require finding or sorting one item every six or eight seconds or so all day long.

STOLZ: Which makes the job very, very physically and mentally stressful.

SELYUKH: Strikes during Prime Day have happened a few times at Amazon warehouses in Europe. Workers in Germany held strikes this week for higher pay and collective bargaining. In the U.S., today's walk-off in Minnesota is the most high-profile labor action to date. In a statement, Amazon representatives did not address the speed quotas but said unions were trying to use Prime Day to increase membership dues and that the company already offered minimum pay of $15 per hour, benefits and a, quote, "safe workplace."

The work stoppage received praise from The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the AFL-CIO, though Stolz said the Shakopee workers are not actively trying to unionize. Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

KELLY: And a note - Amazon is one of NPR's financial supporters.

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