Above photo: Khali Jama, Amazon warehouse worker in Shakopee, Minn. Isabela Escalona via Workday Magazine.
Khali Jama is a single mother, a Muslim, and a Somali-American worker in Minnesota.
With her coworkers at Amazon and organizers at the Awood Center, Jama helped pass the nation’s strongest warehouse worker protection legislation.
“I’ve never been an organizer,” Khali Jama says, “but I’ve always fought.” As a single mother, a Muslim, and a Somali-American worker living in Minnesota, Jama has always had to fight for the life she, her family, and her fellow workers deserve. And earlier this year, after bringing that fight to the Minnesota state legislature, Khali and her coworkers achieved a major victory. “On May 16,” Lisa Kwon reports in PRISM, “Minnesota lawmakers passed the nation’s strongest Amazon warehouse worker protection legislation with the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, which ensures that workers can take breaks during the workday and have access to relevant quota and performance standards and data on how fast they’re working. The bill’s passage marks a significant victory for migrant workers—especially Minnesota’s Somali immigrant population, of which the state has the largest in the country. For Khali Jama, a former worker in Amazon’s fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota, the new bill offers reprieve and protections that she worked to mobilize. As a Somali and a Muslim, Jama said the Warehouse Worker Protection Act ensures some equity in Minnesota’s facilities.” In this episode of Working People, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez talks with Jama about moving to the midwest as a child, about her path to working in healthcare and at Amazon, and about the incredible story of how Khali, her coworkers, and the team at the Awood Center, which organizes in Minnesota’s East African communities, fought to pass the Warehouse Worker Protection Act.
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Khali Jama: Hello to everyone who’s listening to this podcast. My name is Khali Jama from all the way, cold winter city called Minnesota. I’ve been here for decades living in between Minnesota and other states, but I made my living here in Minnesota for the benefit of my children. I am one of the organizers who organized Amazon. I never been an organizer, but I always fought and had voices for places I go to, I see anything that is not fair or right, I always speak out.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Well, welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times Magazine and the Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor and made possible by the support of listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. So if you are hungry for more worker and labor focus shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out the other great shows in our network. And please support the work that we are doing here at Working People so we can keep growing and keep bringing y’all more important conversations with our fellow workers every single week. You can do that by leaving us positive reviews on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. You can share these episodes on your social media, and of course, share them with your coworkers, your friends, and your family members.
My name is Maximilian Alvarez and I am really excited to get a chance to talk with our incredible guest, Khali, today. As you guys heard Khali has been deeply involved with frankly some of the most important worker organizing victories that we have seen this year or in recent memory, coming out of Minnesota. There’s just been so much intense rank and file struggle happening over there in Minnesota, and Khali’s been there with her coworkers in the thick of it. And we really wanted to find time on the show to talk about this recent landmark victory by Amazon workers in Minnesota, which I know a lot of you guys listening have heard about because you’ve asked us about it. So we’re going to dig into all of that today. And if you haven’t heard about it, I wanted to kick us off by just reading a couple passages from a great article in The Nation, which we will link to in the show notes.
This article is titled Minnesota Enacts Landmark Protections for Amazon Warehouse Workers, and it is co-authored by Abdirahman Muse, Emma Greenman and Erin Murphy. And so the authors write in this piece, “Minnesota has learned the hard way about the human cost of Amazon’s soaring profits in the company’s ever-expanding footprint. After Amazon arrived in the state eight years ago, the company imported its high-tech business model and dangerous management practices that have made its warehouses one of the most unsafe places to work in Minnesota. Inside Minnesota warehouses, Amazon’s injury and turnover rate are astronomical. There’s one injury on the job for every nine Amazon warehouse workers every year. This is twice the rate of injury at non-Amazon warehouses in Minnesota, and more than four times the rate at private industries. These high injury rates are directly attributable to how Amazon manages workers in their warehouses, enforcing an excessively rapid pace of work through the system of electronic surveillance and discipline that Amazon has pioneered. Workers tell us they push themselves to the brink, racing against a machine with quotas set by algorithms that treat them like robots, not like human beings.
And while this is a problem across Amazon warehouses, in Minnesota, the problem is 30% higher than the national average. The Warehouse Worker Protection Act has the power to change this. The bill requires employers to provide warehouse workers with written information about all quotas and performance standards they are subject to, in addition to how these quotas and standards are determined. Employers must provide this information in the workers’ primary language, a crucial requirement for warehouses in our state where more than 86,000 Somali born immigrants and family members live. Importantly, the bill also stipulates that employers cannot fire or take disciplinary action against a worker who fails to meet a quota that wasn’t disclosed, disarming one of the primary excuses Amazon may use to punish or fire workers who seek better conditions or to organize. The bill also mandates that if Amazon or a particular work site has a rate of injury 30% higher than the year’s industry average, the Minnesota Commissioner of Labor and industry will open an investigation.
Finally, the bill establishes a private right of action for workers, meaning current or former workers can bring a civil suit for damages and injunctive relief to obtain compliance with this law. And this bill doesn’t just cover Amazon workplaces, it applies to all warehouses with more than 250 workers at a site or 1,000 across the state.”
So it really can’t be overstated how seismic of a victory this is against the second-largest private employer in the United States, owned by one of the richest human beings on the planet. And so I wanted to just start by sending all of our love and solidarity to Khali and her coworkers and everyone involved in this fight, and to just really give them a huge shout-out for fighting that fight because it took a lot and it took a number of years to get to where we are now. And as I said, we’re going to dig into that fight. We’re going to talk more about what this bill means.
But Khali, before we get there, I would love to just sit and chat a little more about you and your backstory. So I was wondering if we could… you said that you had moved around a bit. Where did you grow up as a kid?
Khali Jama: I came to Minnesota ending of ’93. And beginning of ’94, in between. My mom always say ’93 and ’94. So we were the second Somalian generation who came to Minnesota from Somali from the war. And me coming to the US, I was around, I believe nine or eight years old. So I didn’t have a lot of my background mentality from back home coming here. We went straight to school. It was okay, but my mother struggled. As an immigrant mother in Minnesota at that time was really, really cold. Right now, I think we have no global warming, I believe weather. Weather is getting better, but we still have straight nine months of snow. So coming to America, we were never warned about the situation and the living. As my mother always told us, “I came to give you guys a better life, a better living from what we come from.”
So living here, we got adapt to the lifestyle here because I came in young. But one of the thing I was more interested in at that time, because from in Africa, unless your family comes from money or good background, you really don’t get education. And that’s the difference between America. That’s what people say america is the dream world, where you dream it happened. Which is true, if you put your mind to it. But coming here and just as an immigrant and always getting bullied and being different with the African-American community, with the Asian, with the Latinas, we didn’t fit in because we were Black, but we still didn’t fit in the African-American community. They didn’t like us. They called us names, horrible names, Caucasian. It was just so confusing, because at that time, I think they didn’t have a lot of Black people living here as much as a bigger cities, like New York and Seattle and stuff like that.
So just living here, feeling different, because coming from back home, people loved each other. We didn’t know poor or rich or middle class, because everyone we shared, coming from that shared, the war made you love one another. Give what you have to your neighbors, your friends, whatever. So it was challenging growing up in Minnesota as a teenager. I ended up moving away because I couldn’t deal with it. But I had a brother who passed away years back that was more advocate to this Somalian community, the new refugee who will help make their family members understand. So I have his background, because I always used to help him walk on the streets, help kids who didn’t understand their family members. Because the culture with the religion was really difficult for a lot of family members that didn’t understand the way life goes here compared to back home.
So coming from that, I always fought for anybody. Whenever I went somewhere, I fought. So one of our fight that we won be in Minnesota the first time was the hijab. As a Muslims, we could not get in. My mom wore those big cover clothes and she was getting difficult, places were calling her thief. She was getting harassed because of what she was wearing. They would lie about her and say she tucked things underneath. It was a crazy time between ’95 all the way to ’98. So we fought that. We had to make people understand. And we fought for the translating, to get a translator in schools, certain places. But I left in ’97, moved to New York City. I was in between New York and DMV. So I came here once I had my kids, because I didn’t want to raise my kids in a big city.
I knew how a struggle it was there as a single parent. So when I got pregnant, I moved here with my daughter. Then I had my son here. I stayed here ever since 2002, once I got married. So I never left. But once I got married, as a single mom, I always put my kids first. I put my life second, my education, everything. I wanted my kids to have the best of all what I couldn’t have and make them understand. So as a single mom, I always had two jobs. I always worked as a nursing assistant, personal care home, and I was always in a nursing field. And once my kids went to high school, I went and got my registered nurse. But long story short, once I lived here and stayed in Minnesota, warehouses was the second-easiest job to get because that works with my time because I worked overnight now hospital where I can come take my kids to school and then go to Amazon. It worked.
So long story short, I heard about Amazon 2018 when they did the walkout and all that. I wasn’t working there then. I worked in a hospital and I worked in assisted living, so I didn’t have time. But once COVID hit, the death rise, the COVID, the assisted living, a lot of older people passed away. So the job got less, hours got less. So a friend of mine came to me and he’s like, “Hey, there’s a place called Amazon.” So our coworker was like, “Cool.” She said, they have a flex thing called flex. You can pick up whenever days you want, make your money that you do. You don’t deal with anyone, you deal with the app. So I was like, that’s kind of cool. You make your own schedule.
And there’s also a shift that is four nights, back half nights. They do Friday to Sunday, 12 hour shift. Front half nights, they do Sunday to Wednesday. You go in 5:00 to 3:30 in the morning. So I’m like, “Actually 5:00 PM to 3:30, that’s perfect for me, once I get off this job.” So I start working there. When you are middle class and you trying to make up and your kids are going to college, you need that extra money. So for me it was weekly pay too. Who doesn’t want to get paid weekly?
So I was like, “That’s better than instead of waiting two weeks.” So it was good when I first started. So when I went, first it was so confusing there, a whole interview thing, it’s an app email, which a lot of job uses. And then some of their people, when I’m trying to ask direction and things, will have attitude. I’m like, ‘What kind of company gives you attitude?” They set you up for interview. It is not my fault that I can’t find the location. But that was confusing. I didn’t make nothing of it. And then they said choose. So when you go for an interview, you’re thinking like you’re sitting there with questions. So the interview is basically, you’re getting the card, you are already hired, but they just don’t tell you. You’re basically going to get your card, registration and want to go for your orientation.
So we went to the orientation. We were like 30 people on our rotation, and majority of those people were Somalians and Latinas. So what threw me out at the time was they were speaking English the whole time, but none of the people out of seven of us understood the language. So I thought that was kind of weird and I was like-
Maximillian Alvarez: That’s nuts.
Khali Jama: And I was like, “How does people going to understand?” So the Somalians, once we see each other will come, “Hey Somali, can you help me?” So I was like, “Sure. This is what he said.” The guy just came, I’m like, “Hey, you know they’re not understanding you guys?” So he brushed it off. So I said, “Okay, I guess this must be a thing.” Maybe they have translators inside. I don’t know. I didn’t want to judge a company until I know it for myself.
So we got done that 10 hours, which was nothing. You barely learned anything but how much Amazon wants you to reach and what the goals are. They were not talking about safety and these certain things. I’m like, “I know I have not got a job for years, but this is not what organization is supposed to be.” Because organization is supposed to teach you about the company, your rights, where you have rights to, how the company flows, what you need to know around the company that you’re working for. So there’s a thing called three days or seven days of flow training. So they have a site called pick and sowing. So I got hired for sowing.
So as they were training us, first you’re standing up for 10 hours. Actually eight and a half hours you stand up for it. The waters are not nearby because when I started it was winter, it was still COVID the first time, 2020. So it was okay. 2022, there was still COVID. So when I started getting on the floor for three days, because I speak the language, I understood, so I learned a little bit faster. So I was like, “I’m just ready to do this.” And I did it and she showed that you’re doing good. So this is what they tell you. You have 90 days to make mistakes or to learn. No one will punish you or discipline you or no write-ups, which is a lie. I found out they say they give you 90 days, but you still can get fired that 90 days, without a question.
So I was like, “Okay, fine.” So I knew the job. I didn’t think the job was hard. I just didn’t think it’s fair on the condition that we were working on. So on the second week I’m working with a lady, it’s like literally five feet away from me, coughing, vomiting, and cannot go home. So I didn’t understand that.
Maximillian Alvarez: Jesus.
Khali Jama: And I’m like, “How is this normal?” It still in COVID, even though it’s 2022, we still in COVID. COVID wasn’t cleared yet. So we’re still wearing masks. So I was like, “Okay, maybe you are overreaching.” Because my kids always tell me, “Mom, you overthink too much.” I said maybe she talked to somebody. So I stayed there. Break time came in, I went to the person. I said, “You should go and talk to the managers and let them know you’re not feeling good because I don’t feel safe working next to you. It’s still COVID and I feel like we’re touching the same things. We’re touching the same table, same items. I need to know that I’m safe.”
So she said, “I can’t go.” I said, “Why you can’t go?” She was like, “Because I don’t have…” So VTO is a volunteer time that they give you. Personal time is called UPT, and the vacation. So if you don’t have either one of those, you cannot go home. So I said, “That’s crazy.” So I didn’t pay mind. I’m like, “There’s no way they can do that.” So I said, maybe this person just loved making money, they don’t want to go home. That’s how I took it until it happened to me. So working there after a month later, I got really ill. I got really sick. The summer when it comes in with the allergy, my nose and I have my own health issues.
I got really sick. I didn’t have those hours. I didn’t have any personal time because they give you personal time as you work. And the VTO, every shift, every day that you work, it adds up only one hour. So we work 40 hours a week, Sunday to Wednesday, from 5:00 to 3:30. So if you miss a day, you don’t get a VTO. That’s the unpaid time. You get an hour or 30 minutes every shift you work. Imagine, you working 40 hours, 30 an hour every shift you work, would that even add up to 40? No, it’ll take at least two months before it adds up to 40, right?
And there’s a thing called personal time. They give you every 90 days 10 hours. What does 10 hours do for you? And you got to wait every 90 days. And I think it only has up to six months that you can get that, only if you’re new. If you’re not new, you don’t even get that personal time. So when I got sick, I didn’t have any of that because I used a couple of the hours here and there coming in late or the traffic holding me during the winter. So I only had an hour and two hours of my vacation. So I came to the manager, I told the manager, “I’m really sneezing. I don’t feel good. I need to go home. I’m feeling dizzy, nauseous.” Because I was sneezing a lot, it is a big warehouse. So when my manager was like, “Okay, I don’t know what I can do for you, but you can go to the HR and talk to them.”
So I walked to this HR, which, I do not like them. I don’t even know the reason they are there because they cannot do anything for you, which I’m going to learn the hard way. And I go there because anyone tell you go to the HR. ‘That’s a plus, right? Either they’re going to do something or they help you with something. So I go to her, and I tell this lady, she’s like, “Oh,” before I even say anything, say, “Oh, do you have any personal time?” “No.” “Do you have BTO?” “No.” “Do you have vacation?” I’m like, “No, I only have one hour. I already told the manager, he sent you all the information we spoke about.” She was like, “Oh no, no, no, no. I didn’t talk to him.” So first miscommunication, there’s no communication there. So the managers, with the HR, with the office, they don’t even know what’s going on on the floor or whatever.
That’s one thing I got from the first meeting that I met with the HR. And I said, “I’m not feeling well. I need to go home.” She said, “You cannot go home.” I said, “What do you mean I cannot go home? I don’t feel well.” She said, “Either you quit or if you walk out you automatically fired.” I was like, “What? But I’m not feeling well. I cannot stand for another eight and a half hours. I know my body.” And this is the head of the HR. So she was like, “There’s nothing I can do. Either you go back to work, or we let you go. You don’t have a choice.” So I said, “What does it take for me to go home? Do I have to faint or fall?” She said, “That’s what it takes.” That word threw me off, pissed me off. I was like, “That is unhuman.”
Maximillian Alvarez: Jesus man.
Khali Jama: To treat anyone like that. And that was after we did the walkout and everything that was still acting up. So the whole reason I did the walkout was, I felt like with Amazon, is one of the richest company and I felt like… I’m sorry. When I first did the walkout, it wasn’t because of the working condition, the beginning. Because I already knew their working condition was horrible. I was talking to the laborer with Abduragman, the East African Community Award Center. So I reached out to them. So the reason I came out with the first walk is they will not let us celebrate Eid. I don’t know if you know what Eid is.
Maximillian Alvarez: Mm-hmm. But or our listeners, go ahead and say a little bit about that.
Khali Jama: So Eid, it’s a Islamic celebration. So we only get that twice a year. One for the 30 days of the Ramadan that we fast. And the second one, which is supposed to come up in June or July. So when I went there and first, you know how any job when you go to a job, you give them heads up because a lot of places don’t understand the Islamic religion?
So I always give them heads up, “Hey, next month is Ramadan. Within that month, we don’t know exactly what our day is, but in between these days I want to get off. You ask ahead and you get approval or not. You find out with Amazon they say, “No, no, no, just come back three days period to that.” Look how they manipulate the people who don’t understand the system. So I was like three days? Why do I have to take three days? I’m telling you no.” She said, “Either you do a two weeks leave of absence or you have to come in.” So I said, “You guys have it in your contract religious rights. I didn’t ask you to hire all Muslims. That is not my concern.”
Maximillian Alvarez: That one’s on you guys.
Khali Jama: That is not my concern. I’m sorry, but I didn’t tell you to hire a whole Somalian community who are Muslims. Because one of the words she say is, “Oh, we can’t afford all of you guys off.” I said, “That’s not our issue and our concern because we didn’t tell you to hire all Muslims.” When Christmas come, you guys shut it down. Memorial Day, for God’s sake, 4th of July we don’t work. And we can’t get the one day that we want to celebrate and we’re asking with no pay?
We’re not even asking you to pay us. Give us the option, whoever wants to work can work. Whoever don’t, let them able to have that day off. The lady was like, “I can’t stand African people like you that come to America trying to change it.” That threw me off. The next couple of days I asked anyone who wanted to walk out with me. So we did the walkout a time called Prime. I worked overnight. So from 5:00 to 3:30. So it starts from 11:00 to 13:00, there’s a Prime. So you know how you order something right now, and Amazon, it tell you within the next 24 hours you get delivery, right? So those stuff come in at 11:00 at night, every night, every shift. You have two hours to fill those orders out. They got to go within two hours.
So I’m 40. I’m working with a 19-year-old next me. We can’t have the same speed rate. You can’t put us in the same speed rate because a 19-year-old, even though I can be fast, I still don’t have the energy the way that kid moves. When you young, you have a different level of energy compared when you get to a certain age, I don’t know, maybe as a mother. So they made this lady who was like 80 some years old, works same speed rate as a 21 years old. So you have to do 2,500 by the end of your shift, at least, for the rate. And their rate means a speed. They watch your speed. So the computer tells you how fast you’re going. And if you go slow, guess what? No one’s going to come say anything after seven days later, they’ll come to you.
You already got a writeup that you don’t know nothing about. You don’t even know you have a writeup until they come to you that week after and tell you how horrible you was, how bad your rate was, that if you don’t keep up, they won’t even hesitate. They will tell you, if you don’t keep up, you are fired. Straight up on your face. No hesitation. So tell me about someone who just came to United States less than a year who don’t know their rights, can’t speak their language, how can they fight back? They can’t, because to me, I was like, “That’s not fair and that’s who they hired.”
So I feel like they targeted certain people that works at Amazon that will handle… Because if you look at the highest speed, Amazon is majority of vulnerable adults. Ladies are like sixties, fifties, seventies are the fastest in there because they’re so afraid to lose their job. Because the young ones, they don’t last there. They come in, they’ll be like, “Oh, I’m not going to deal with this craziness. I can get a better job.” And they leave. Their turnover is crazy. They hire 30 people every other Sunday, and out of that 30 there’ll be like 10 or seven or six people who remains.
So when I start observing most of their orientation, I noticed the only hire specific type of people. And I’m like this is why Amazon is getting away with it. Because the majority of the people that work here don’t know their rights. So what I started doing is pulling up some cards, making up rights of cards, asking another colleague if we can have to print them out in Somali and in English. And I passed around because majority of the workers there out of 100%, 75% to 85% are Somalians, people who work there. Most the Somali race. And the second one is Latinas, the third, African Americans.
And then one thing I also noticed that pissed me off and did the protest and organized it more, is I felt like there was a race thing going on in Amazon. Because there was a Caucasian lady, I’m sorry, there was this white lady that got injured but they found her a place, for her to sit and work. But when majority of Somalian people get injured or anything, they end up staying home or not allowed to come because they can’t find a job for them, which I think is crap because I see others who get this job, and I’m like, “Why can’t you spend that job or make it more bigger for others when injury happening?” Injury that you guys costing it. Because people are so afraid to lose their job.
I say I’m not afraid to lose Amazon, I can’t get a job anywhere I want because I know what I’m worth. But I know these people coming from different countries not understanding the system. They come to this country to… When we come to America, when we look in America, this is a dream. A country that literally can make you or break you. Either you make it or you don’t, but you have 90% of a chance to make it. I think it depends on the person, how bad they want it. So when people come to America, they come for opportunity, for a better life, not to be abused or mistreated at warehouses. And the reason why I fought this fight so hard, I want people to understand America is not what people put out there for. And coming to America will make you, as long as you follow the laws and what’s your rights and what you deserve. So I started talking to a lot employees-
Maximillian Alvarez: I was just going to say, because I think that’s such a powerful point. And I want to hover on that for a second for people listening. So let’s make sure in our minds to pause. We’re at the moment in this story where you are leading these walkouts, you’re talking to your coworkers and educating them about their rights. You’re producing material that’s available in English and Somali. So we will come back to that in a second. But it made me think about what you were talking about when you got to Minnesota when you were nine, and just how much of a culture shock that must have been. Because I was in Minneapolis a couple of months ago, in the middle of winter. And I was in a cab talking to a Somali American driver about how we were not made for this weather.
My family’s Mexican. And when I show up to the Midwest like that, I’m like, “Fuck that. This is not what my people were made for.” And we were just joking about how you adjust to a place that cold but also, just so much else that you have to adjust to. I just wanted to ask if you could say a little more about that experience for you and for your coworkers. Because I imagine folks listening to this are maybe wondering why are there so many Somali immigrants in Minneapolis and what is it like adjusting to life there. And then, like my family, so like many other immigrant families working hard, trying to get that American dream, what is it like fighting that fight and then realizing just how exploitative employers are and how much people take advantage of you and try to actually prevent you from realizing that dream.
Khali Jama: And how racist. I’m not going to lie to you, I didn’t know what race was until I came to America. I didn’t understand what race was until I came to United States. And I didn’t really fully understand racism until I went to high school, and bullying. Because Africa, there’s no such thing as bullying. There’s discipline. Imagine, back home, a teacher can whoop you for disrespecting your older. So I come from a background of respecting our olders. One of the shocking things for me when I first came to the United States from Africa was how ungrateful the children, the kids of America are. I hope no one takes it the wrong way. When I say that is, when you come from country that you have to pay for education or you don’t get no education, or everything is money. And then you come to a country that’s telling you, “Here’s a free education, learn, be a better person.”
And then you see children who disrespect teachers. Because teachers to us, those are the people who bring our future to us, teach us to be better in life, in the future. So my most shocking thing was coming here, going to school and the disrespect towards the teachers who were teaching us things, and how kids were just so ungrateful to the teachers. But then as I lived here, it’s a normal thing. It became normal because it’s the mentality of American way. Where Africa, we couldn’t disrespect teachers, we can’t talk back to the teacher. You can’t be a minute late, you can’t have a dirty socks on, dirty fingernails. It was a discipline that you had to follow in order to be in school. Because when we went to school, that’s for you to be better in your life, not for your teacher. Your teacher already has her life in there. This is your beginning. So it’s more appreciation.
That’s what I didn’t understand how America, they don’t appreciate the opportunities that come with education. That was one of the culture shocking. And now I think, compared 20 years ago, and now it’s different because now I feel like it’s a little more traditional, Somalia. Minnesota is a little Somalia to me because the culture really expand. Everywhere you go, you see a lot of different and diverse cultures, all this. It wasn’t like this back in 90’s. It was really, I used to call, “I think we live in a village, this cannot be America.” And my mom used to be like, “No, this is part of America.” Because we didn’t choose to come to Minnesota. When you coming, they already chose where you’re going. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a [inaudible 00:34:35].
Maximillian Alvarez: This is like refugee, resettlement kind of place. We have a lot of refugees from the Vietnam War who were relocated to southern California where I grew up. And so there were just a lot more Vietnamese folks around. And I thought that was normal for everywhere in the country. But then I learned later that it’s not.
Khali Jama: No. And I think it’s the way they do it, because when we were in a refugee camp and everything, and I was hearing New York, the most famous name was New York, Virginia, Washington, Seattle, DC, the big cities. And I’m like, “Ooh, America.” Because that’s what you see America in Africa, you don’t hear the small towns. You hear California but you don’t hear San Francisco or you don’t hear the small cities.
So coming here it was just different. And people’s like, “I don’t think you guys are going to America.” Know when you’re a kid and you’re talking nonsense. So I was like, “Yes, it’s America. What do you mean?” They’d be like, “No.” And once you come in to America, they give you this little American flag. I’m like, “We got the same flag.” So I remember me and this kid was going at it. And when I came and we saw the winter, we was like, ‘Oh my god, we’re about to die.” We felt like this cannot be America.
Maximillian Alvarez: We got on the wrong flight. We ended up in Siberia or something.
Khali Jama: It’s so funny, may God rest his soul. One of my brothers back home, we didn’t have fridge. So one of the rich neighbors that my mom worked for had a fridge. And they always, when you get hot, we’ll see the kids, that smoking coming out. So we didn’t experience that back home until we came here. So when we saw the snow, my brother made a comment. He said, “I think they want us to live inside the fridge the lady had.” Because he said, “No human can go out here.” When I mean Minnesota used to get cold back in 90’s, we had winter. You know how school starts in September, the beginning of September, the first week of school, the second week we already had snow all the way to November, December, February. So I tell people right now, this is not a snow. If you lived in Minnesota for the past 90’s, they used to have nine to 10 months straight of winter, the worst cold.
So when I went to New York, I learned the difference of in snow. But that was another shocking thing coming here and it was freezing. And I’m like, “They came to kill us. This is not America.” Because you see California, Miami. And I’d be like, “What is this?” And then Home Alone, we watched that back home. So we know the snow, but we didn’t see that snow that they show on TV. So it was really crazy. But we got adapted to it. We had to, we didn’t have a choice. I remember I had a frost bite couple of times because I wore the wrong shoes. It is common sense to wear boots, but when you come from nothing, you’re not understanding. And then at the time, I remember we didn’t have any clothes, nothing. So we had to wrap up with a blanket to get jackets and stuff, which was not fun.
So it was memories, but we still were grateful because we were somewhere with no war and my mom didn’t have to worry about us, where she going to get our next meal from. So it was a lot of benefit to it also. But just coming to America, for me as a young kid, until today, I appreciate that my mom brought me here because it made me the person I am and the woman I am. I don’t know if I was in Africa, if that would be the same. I think I’m a fast kid. I have such a big mouth. So as a woman in Africa, there’s certain way you can speak and you got to hold your tongue. Where America says free of speech, which sometimes I doubt the free of speech because I feel like it comes privileges with certain people. But I try always speak my mind and I always try to remind people, even though you’re in America, you fear God. Because at the end of the day, we all return to God.
Nothing is promised in this earth. Speak your mind. You see someone getting hurt, mistreated, you have to speak because you witnessed it. You have to be there. I don’t fear death or anything because I know I’m going to die sooner or later. So as a Muslim, we don’t live by day, we live by moment, because any moment your life can end. So every second and every moment of our life matters. Everything you do is written. So it matters how we do it when we do it. So me coming to Amazon, I felt like because if someone would come to me 10 years ago and be like, “Hey, let’s work in the warehouse,.” I’d be like, “You crazy. I’m never working in a warehouse.” But when you have a kid and you’re a single mother, sometimes life throws you certain ways. And I feel like this, me coming to Amazon, it was a way God’s sending me there because people were really struggling, especially my community and the Latinas.
I just didn’t like people working to lose their job. A company, if you don’t work good, they can train you. “Okay, you didn’t do good this, let me train you to be better.” And when you see that person’s not catching up, then that’s fair. But a person who doesn’t understand what’s going on the system, you work like crazy, 10 hours, you are back and forth in this little mini space. I don’t know if you ever get a chance, there’s Amazon TikTok, which they’re always trying to delete it, where we repost things in there, so maybe you guys can follow. It shows you the working condition. Now that this bill is passed, it’s changing. I hope it changed for better. I’m planning to leave because I didn’t want to leave until I knew this bill was passed. Because I felt like even when we organized the protest and we organized the rallies, a lot of people would sign up but when that day before come… So we used to do everything sneaky with them because when they found out, the crazy thing is they had so many snitches in there, it’s crazy.
Everything I did was known. So we had to hide because we found out that every time we did something, Amazon found out and increase the dollar pay or make more money through that day, whoever stayed in the shift, because they didn’t want people coming out. So we were playing like mouse and cat game. So we had to be careful how we do our rallies because they were putting fears on people. When we did the first walkout, Amazon let go a lot of people, fired a lot of people, which most of the people didn’t understand. I told them I wish they would’ve fired me. I want them to fire me because I want to see why am I getting fired for speaking my rights and speaking what I believe in. If I don’t feel safe and my back is hurting and I don’t feel too comfortable to work or feel too good to work, I shouldn’t put my health in danger.
I should be able to go home. I should be able to get a sick pay. I shouldn’t be able to have a doctor note to come back. If you work in Amazon before, and let’s say flu season, it comes whenever weather changes. And a lot of people get cold. And sometimes some people can’t go home because Amazon’s going to tell them, “Oh, you’re going home sick, you don’t have any of these hours. We need to proof that you were sick.” Can you imagine that?
So every time you get a cold, you got to bring a doctor note proof. I said, “Do you know a lot of people don’t even have insurance?” No one can afford to go to a clinic just to prove that they had flu. This is Minnesota. Everybody knows we go through flu season. The season changes, it’s allergy. So I’m like, “Why would you guys do that?” Because I had to do it. I couldn’t get my [inaudible 00:42:14]. And then when they ask you for the doctor note, the crazy part is they want to know what your illnesses was, what you went to see to the doctor for. I don’t know if your job ever asked you that.
Maximillian Alvarez: No. Well actually, when I used to work at a warehouse in Southern California, it wasn’t Amazon, but they would say that. And so, like you, we just basically would come to work sick. I was like, “Well I can’t afford to go to a doctor and get a note.” They just made the rules. It was such a high barrier to clear that no one went and got a doctor’s note.
Khali Jama: What threw me off was they wanted to know the reason I went to the doctor. Did you not tell me to bring a doctor note? Did you not see my nose, me coughing? What other reason do you need?
Maximillian Alvarez: That’s nut.
Khali Jama: And the crazy thing is you don’t deal with a person. You’re dealing with a phone. That’s the second-craziest thing. You’re dealing with a phone. And then if you wanted to talk to someone, the people that their customer service is, they don’t speak English, they’re worse than the other person. I’m not trying to bash any one community, but it is like majority Indians and they have huge accent. I’m already struggling with my accent, and sometimes when I’m on the phone with them, I have to hang up 20, 30 times just to get someone who can speak English that I can have better understanding with. Because if you guys have a misunderstanding, you losing your job. Because guess what? Amazon’s not going to go after their customer service. They’re going to go after that employee. You didn’t do your part, you didn’t get this part. Sometimes their machine, their app don’t even work or post or whatever you sent. It won’t send. And you don’t know, but your phone tells you it’s been sent. But on their side, you get in trouble.
You didn’t do this. So Amazon never take a blame for their parts. And that’s what drove me crazy there. And then when I go to the main HR, which they have an office, which I don’t know why, they can’t help you. They’ll be like, “Oh, there’s nothing I could do. You got to call upper people.” What is upper people? What are you here for? Why I need to call upper people if you already here? And they’ll be like, “Oh, our hands is tied.” Why is your hand tied? You can’t help me to see if I can go home. You can’t help me to see why my PTO was taken away? And then this is the crazy thing. So remember how I tell you I start my shift at 5:00 PM to 3:30? Amazon gives me 30, 20 minutes, hour every other day, if you work that shift. If you don’t, you don’t get that.
So let’s say I was late, I came in at 6:00. They’ll take a whole hour away from me. Isn’t that crazy?
Maximillian Alvarez: Man.
Khali Jama: And that hour is still unpaid. I still clock in at six because my pace starts at six. But the hour, they will take that whole hour a half and I’m going to go negative, the fact that I came in at six. If you don’t have any hours, so they put you on negative. And that negative would send you a text message every three minutes. That will drive you crazy and it will put the fear on you because their message saying, “Warning, termination, negative.” Imagine you get a text message like that every 3 minutes. You’d be like, what’s going on?
Sometimes the computer will put wrong negative on you. Sometimes I’ll have 10 hours and I’ll look up my A to Z app, and I’m like, “How did I have five hours?” They will take hours. So I felt like they were doing that to certain people who didn’t understand the system. I was like, I can go and fight and be like, “I knew I had 10 hours in here.” Why is my five hours taken away? Because I know this system. Because after it happened to me a couple of times, I always double check it. But a lot of people who get hired there don’t understand that system. People will come to be like, can you translate? Can you read this for me? And I’m like, you guys have majority of Somalians and Latinas here, you have Spanish, but how can you not have the majority worker language that you have in this facility? And where I worked at was called MSP1, it’s the number one Amazon in the whole United States that makes the highest rate.
Maximillian Alvarez: Wow.
Khali Jama: Isn’t that crazy? And they treat you like dirt. I used to speak my mind. There was a time, my manager told me, he said, “Your mouth will put you in trouble.” I said, “That’s okay because I’m not going to be quiet. You guys, a lack of safety.” And then in the summer, I won’t even talk about it in the summer, you will die in there. And their fans are so high. They have, one station site is what? Like 20 stations. They have six fans spaced out. Let’s say you bring your own fan. Why should I bring my own fan? Fine. You dying in there. Because I sweat a lot when I worked there, so I brought my own fan. The water is hot. So when you leave your station, let’s say you got to go pee because you’re drinking a lot of water to stay dehydrated.
And you go, you be like, “Okay, I’m going to go to the bathroom.” So they have four floors. Each floor has two toilet on each side. So it depends what station you were. Some stations take five minutes, some six. So it depends. So you go, let’s say the one on the right side, and what’s called north side. I go there to the bathroom and it’s occupied. Okay. So I need to use the bathroom. So I might go to the next floor or walk to the opposite side to see in the same floor so I can make it on time if it’s there. Let’s say it’s occupied, because there’s people who love to sit on the toilet eventually, and it’s occupied. So you running around trying to find, and eventually you get the bathroom, but while you running around, your time increases. So you’ve gone 20 minutes just trying to find somewhere to pray or somewhere to run to or use the bathroom because the bathroom are distance. And you come there, your station locks you out.
So you have to call the manager to unlock you out. And then they don’t tell you nothing that whole week. Seven days go by, you come to work. Oh, just you here starting, be like, “Oh, we need to talk to you, come.” Pull you aside. “What’s going?” “Oh, guess what? Last week you did horrible. You were gone this long.” It’s called time task. And I’m like, “Why y’all have to wait seven days to tell me? Aren’t you’re supposed to come the next day and let me know?” Like hey, so I can change my behavior or something that I’m doing wrong, but why you have to wait for seven days pass or another 15 days for you guys to come and tell me what I did wrong? So a lot of people… I know a guy that was working next to me, they came to him, they said, “Let’s go.” Next thing I knew, I didn’t see the guy anymore.
And then I asked around, eventually talked to him, he said, “Oh, they fired me.” I said, “What happened? How’d they fire you?” He said, “Oh, I had six write-ups that I didn’t even know about.” I said, “What? Didn’t you not get into your data?” “No.” So Amazon won’t show you your data, they won’t show you your rates. It is a lot of things they hide from. And people don’t understand that they were supposed to let us know about and teach us about. So if I’m working a station, I need to know how much I rate, how much I made that night, so I can know how to work with my speed, my body, able to catch up with it. Because there’s kids who are making faster than you. Not everyone works in the same speed to me. I’m speaking on my own. So I was like, okay.
So I had a lot of back issues. So I started to notice because I felt like I was trying to catch up and do my part of the job. But then every time I went in and I felt sick, Amazon didn’t care. So I was like, why would I put my hard work for company don’t care about my health. I got cut one time. They’re not supposed to have sharp objects, sometimes they do. It’ll come in a wrong delivery. If it came wrong, I let the manager know. He was like, “Okay.”
So one time it was this box. I didn’t know it was going to be heavy. It looked really light. Trying to grab it, it was a really heavy box, but it was metal. It was not supposed to be there. And another time, I had this liquid that got damaged in there. So I didn’t know it was damaged. As I opened the box, it came up and it messed up my hands. The whole month my hands felt weird, hard, scratchy. And I went to them, “I said, I don’t know, something’s spilled in my hand. I don’t know. Is there anywhere I can wash my hand?” They say, “Yeah, over there, the bathroom.” They didn’t even care.
So it’s just when I was working there, honestly, I was doing my part of work, trying to catch up with the race. So one of the reasons I came out, did the protest, is what I experienced and I spoke. So that’s why I always said I speak of my experience in Amazon. I can’t speak for everyone, but I noticed other people were going through the same. But I spoke about what really happened to me and how they treated me. And when I went there, they made it seem like it’s nothing. And then I went to a place called MCare, which I really don’t know why that place exists. So when you go to any clinic, they ask you if you have allergies before they offer you any painkiller. Amazon don’t ask you nothing. They say, “Oh, you have headache, we have ibuprofen. What do you want?”
First ask me, do I have allergies? Do I have any medication allergy? What if I take it and I can have the allergy and I don’t know. Now all these people know the allergies. You’re supposed to be careful about that stuff. You calling yourself a MCare, a clinic station to help people. Another time I was fasting and I got really dehydrated. So we fast, the past, we were fasting 10 hours, nine hours, it depends. And I went and I was like, “I’m really not feeling well.” I felt dizzy. I’ve been standing, it’s really hot, the station I’m in. There’s no fan but some station you can barely even move. You’ll make one, two step, one, two step, back to stock things.
So I was like, “I’m not feeling good. Can I lay down?” And this guy told me, “Oh no, we can’t let you lay down. We only got three beds, in case someone who’s injured or back comes here.” I said, “But I feel nauseous and I can’t stand and I can’t sit. I can’t lay?” He said, No, we can’t let you lay down.” Can you imagine that? And I was really dizzy and nauseous. Knowing that, when you’re fasting as Muslim, we don’t eat or drink. And I was working in a speed rate. It was my fault. I forgot to eat that night before, but it was already too late. But I didn’t think I’ll get that dizzy.
But going there, they let you rest for 30 minutes. So I said, “Can I rest for that 30 minutes?” And he said, “No. Is your arm broken?” I was like, “No.” “Is your back off?” I’m like, “What question is that?” But they was like, “No, you can’t. That’s for someone that gets their arm or finger cut this.” I said, “If a person finger cut, better be at the emergency, why are they here? They shouldn’t be in this room.” So basically they were doing whatever they want. The MCare people did not care. There was only one guy who always care, but he was never there. That was the only person I ever seen that will ask, you have allergies, everything’s okay if you need an ice, this. And sometimes you’ll walk around the floor to come and ask people. Because that’s what the MCare is supposed to do.
And there was another time, another new coworker, he was from South Africa, I believe, was vomiting in front of me. And I said, “Hey, you okay?” He said, “I don’t feel good. I feel dizzy.” So we grabbed a couple boxes, we just sit down. Another coworker went and got water. It was hot that day. So we called the station, which they took forever to come. Once they came, we said, “Hey, this guy cannot walk. He literally been throwing up until you guys guys came in. Can he get a wheelchair?” And one of them MQ was like, “No, he can walk. He should walk his butt off.” And I’m like, “What? The guy can barely stand.” So I got mad. I said, “I dare you to make him walk, and you will see what we’re going to do.” So he turned around, “He said, oh, you that troublemaker?”
I said, “You can call me whatever you want, but you’re not going to make a person we just saw vomiting, barely can stand, to walk all the way to the other side of the building. No.” That guy hated me ever since. Every time he sees me, he rolled his eyes, but I didn’t care. I’m like, you here to save people. I’m a nurse. Anyone I see, as a CPR, that’s the first thing I react to. If you calling yourself a nurse, how are you not allowing a person who just told you was throwing up, could barely stand? We had to grab boxes for him to sit down on it, and you’re trying to make that person walk? How is that human? So it was just, I don’t know if it’s the company, if the company knows, but I feel like the people within the building, like those managers, supervisors, they just do whatever they feel like. They treat however.
Some people feel like they have title to Amazon. I’m like, “I don’t own Amazon. I’m here to make my money and move on.” But I’m not going to let them treat me otherwise because some manager think he owns Amazon or some supervisor or some upper manager. I’m not going to take that. I always spoke my mind, but I noticed there’s a lot of Latinas and Somali community could not speak. Because some of them are like, “Khali, I want to be part of the fight. I want to come in and fight with you, but I’m scared to lose my job.” And I couldn’t get mad at them because I don’t know their situation. I don’t know what they’re going through, what their challenges in life is. Because everyone comes from different backgrounds. So I didn’t get mad people who didn’t come out, but I knew they were supporting from the back. They were there, but I can’t get mad at them because I always said, just speak out, do this.
And that’s one of the reason now it’s so important, after all this is done, Amazon to be unionized. Because I think once Amazon is unionized, they can’t treat employees like that, because union fights for the employee rights. And I feel like with Amazon, my fear, most of my fear was, I wanted to leave Amazon a couple of times because I was getting frustrated with some of the managers there and the supervisors, so-called supervisors who don’t do anything. But the reason I wanted to leave was I was getting frustrated with their workload because it felt like…
So there was a time called peak season. I don’t know if you guys ever heard, it’s called Prime. So I worked four days, 5:00 to 3:30. So that peak season is a month, and I think 10 days or a month a week. That month and week you have to work five days straight, 12 hour shift and no excuse. You either ill, cannot move, your doctor said you can’t work. I had like 10, 15 people quit those days. I had ladies who didn’t have babysitters, but Amazon said We need to prove that you don’t have a babysitter. And I said, “What? How do you bring a proof that you don’t have a babysitter?” And people was like, “Can we do 10 hours, seven days instead of 12 hours? Because I have a kid that get off school.” And in wintertime it’s different here.
Maximillian Alvarez: It’s just like, I just wanted to shout something for people listening. Notice the double standard here. When someone like Khali goes to HR in their separate building and says, “I need answers.” And they say, “Well, we can’t give you any answers, sorry, tough luck.” Then that’s it. But when a worker can’t find someone to watch their kid, Amazon needs eight different forms filled out to prove that. It’s just if they applied half as much scrutiny to their damn selves as they do to workers, maybe things would be operating a little bit better. But that’s just so infuriating.
Khali Jama: And it’s crazy. And a lot of people had to quit because some of the people in Minnesota, especially in the city we live in, state, winter time, buses come late or they get stuck. So you have to be prepared anytime, any day if the weather’s good or bad, because we just didn’t know what kind of weather. And even when we had storms and people couldn’t come in, a lot of people got fired because some people couldn’t make it to work. But Amazon didn’t care. You didn’t have those hours, you can’t, there’s no saving. You have to bring a reason why you’re calling me. So if there’s a storm, I’m like, “Hey, it’s a storm. I don’t feel safe to drive there.” Because I drove 50 to 45 minutes to 50 minutes over there. So when the storm hit, either I left early because in the morning, I could take my time to get home.
But when I knew the storm was coming, I always left early. But other warehouses around Amazon was shut down except Amazon. And how is this okay? They can see people are struggling to come in and then when they’re short-staffed, that’s when the abuse actually kicks in. They come and pressure you. And I used to tell them, for me, I was like, “Why don’t you come…?” Because I remember there was a manager that came to me, had an attitude. He was like, “Oh yeah, you think you can do this?” I said, “I don’t think I can do anything, but I’m going to make sure I don’t damage myself and injure my body and work smart, not work hard.” So if that thing is too heavy, I’m not going to lift it. I only signed for 50 pounds or less, not more on my contract, so I’m not going to do that.
And they’ll be like, “Oh, you have to do it.” I’m like, “I’m not going to injure my body. I’m sorry.” I’ll do my part of work, but I’m not going to lift something heavy that I can’t lift. But they would come back, “Oh you didn’t listen to your manager, you’re getting a write-up.” The crazy thing is I never got a write-up. When I went back and I said I need the record of all my write-ups, they was like, “You don’t have none.” So they mentally abuse you also by scaring you off. Nobody wants to hear write up. So that was one of their favorite things. People was always getting write up or not knowing they’re getting write up. So one of the things we need to know, even if a manager write me up, I need to have that knowledge that I got a write up or I got a warning. But how you just fire someone without any consent, don’t even know what’s going on, what mistake they made? “Oh no, he was too slow.” Imagine getting fired because you were too slow.
That threw me off. I’m like, people come to work to make a better living. Trust me, if people had other choices, they would’ve, but people come to work. We come to work to do better. When I came to work, I did my part. I just wanted Amazon to do their part. When we get injured, we get sick. And at that time you don’t understand the bad background of injury Amazon has. There was another Amazon MSP6, where a lady literally, stomach fell into a part. This [inaudible 01:01:48] came down to her. She was too short and she was trying to reach it and it fell on her stomach and cut her off.
I guess she didn’t know how to fight them. And that’s one of the other fights that motivated me to fight Amazon to the court. When she fought them, I guess they paid for her bills, whatever, but when she came back 30 days or 60 days prior to that, they fired her. I believe, my opinion, once Amazon won the fight, knew this lady was not coming after them, because you couldn’t sue Amazon. You can’t go after them. And that’s why this bill was so important that we were fighting. If you get injured in a company, you should able to sue them for what you believe is your right. Right? Because I felt like, besides their turnover, it is just the workload was crazy. The age that they were hiring was ridiculous to me. It was a lot of older ages. I was the youngest and I’m 40.
Majority of the people worked there were really old. Even if you look at the Caucasian side, the African-American, the young ones, they come there, make their money and quit. You can always go back to Amazon. I can work Amazon 30 days and quit and go back after 30 days. I don’t even think they do any background check, to be honest. Because certain people that I work with there, they look like people who qualified the job. I’m not disrespecting anyone, but it’s just like the guy that I work with, there was a guy who literally drank at work. And I’m like, “How is this okay to allow someone drinking inside the job?” You can smell alcohol. But that guy never got fired. To me, I feel that because it was a color difference. That’s how I felt. But it is what it is. So it’s just, the things they did when it came to the African-American with the Latinos and Somali community, to me, it felt unfair because I experienced it.
They were buying within my people. There were people who spoke English, they came to me like, “You know what? It’s past you. Why you care? You don’t own Amazon. Why you care about these people? You go home.” I go, “It is not about why.” I’m Muslim. As a Muslim person, I’m witnessing these things and I’ll be judged by my Lord. I don’t fear that humans here because no one goes with me when I die except my deeds. And one of the things my religion teach me is once you turn to God, what do you turn with? Because everywhere we are in life as Muslim people, we are there for a reason. Nothing just happened. Nothing’s ever accident. Everything happens in the willing of God besides what plans we make. So me being there, seeing things, I felt like it was a way for me to speak up for my community and others. And the crazy thing is the janitorial people that work there under union and Amazon is not. And when we start talking… So I made a rumor just to see if Amazon really listened.
Maximillian Alvarez: You starting stirring up some more shit.
Khali Jama: I just wanted to see because they were like, “Oh, she’s not going to do it.” They would go to people like, “Oh you see she’s losing.” Because it was a tough fight. I’m not going to lie to you. It was a lot of challenges. It was the toughest fight I ever been in. And sometimes we had ups and downs, but I was having faith. I said, “God will not put me here if it was.” So I was like, “I’m going to show you that Amazon is a liar and the do listen to everything we do.” And she was like, “How?” I said, “We going to pass rumors saying we going to do union cards.” Guess what? They had a union bust there within 24 hours.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man.
Khali Jama: Isn’t that crazy?
Maximillian Alvarez: I’m going to lay this trap. They fell into that, right like that.
Khali Jama: So that showed me, okay, they do follow-up, because how did they find out about us bringing a union in there? We just said it. We didn’t even have any union. Just said, okay, we’re going to pretend, me and one of my co-workers, let’s pretend like we’re going to do a union. So I spoke loud around certain managers, like “Yes, let’s unionize this.” So within 24 hours of that time though, we had three different union busters. They didn’t come to me, but they went to other workers saying, ‘Don’t listen to them, union just ‘gon take your money.” All that rubbish they say about unions and stuff. So people were coming to me, “Are we really going to be…?” I was like, “Now you know Amazon is following us.” They was like, “What?” I’m like, “I just said it just to see if they really do follow up with us or not.”
But this shows that they do, because within 24 hours that we use this word, and now we have three different busters and three different stations, three different locations. So that’s when I really got motivated and I said, it’s “It’s time for me to fight Amazon. I don’t care how rich, powerful you are.” And I always want people to remember this. And this earth is people who made it, not the rich people. People feel like the richer you are, the better you make this world. I don’t believe that. I believe people voice is way louder than any money, anything in this earth, if we come together. Because people voice is the most powerful thing we can ever have. And a lot of people don’t understand that. Right now, I’m doing a boycott against Target. And not in a bad way, just with them understanding what religious and beliefs of religion. Everybody can be what they want.
I’m Muslim. I don’t have nothing against LPG community because everyone has to deal with God when they return to him, because only him judge. But I feel like with our [inaudible 01:07:20] babies, that was not acceptable for me. Kids, people should have their own choices after they’re 20 years old. Once they go to college, they should be able to know what they want to be or not, and not our toddlers. So I’m also involved in that because I don’t want nobody getting boycott, but I want companies to respect other family members also, like their morals, their believes. It’s not everybody who believes in the same thing. But yeah. So with Amazon, it was challenging, but I stick there. I had to work my other job with that. And in between organizing, and I learned a lot myself. I learned a lot of things about the laws in Minnesota that I did not know about.
By the way, we are one of the best states to live in as a family. I feel like it’s the best state to raise families. Even though the weather makes it bad. Once you get used to that, weather is one of the best place to stay. So one of the reason this fight was so important to me and this bill was so important, I didn’t want another warehouse to move in Minnesota, make the promises that Amazon did, and not stand by it.
And other companies to adapt to the way Amazon system is. So that was my other fear. I didn’t want other warehouses to adapt to their system where they make you work like a robot and they make you move… Sometimes I used to come home… I’m not going to lie to you. I lost 40 pounds working in Amazon 90 days. Almost 65 pounds because of that back and forth. When I came home, my body ached, like when you don’t go to gym for decades and you go there one hour and you think you the superhero, and you’ll do all that lifting, but then the next day you can barely move, that’s how it felt coming from Amazon every day for the first 30 days for my body to catch up. My feet, I never stand for eight hours straight.
You get 30 minutes of break here and 30 minutes later. But walking to the break room, it’s another five, six minutes. So it’s like, by the time I get there, I have what? Less than 25 minutes left. And then the microwave, they have all these microwave that does not work. Half of them are broke. And then when you ask them, they tell you, “It’s coming, it’s coming.” By the time I get to warm mine, time is already up. They have different floors and break room, but some floors away far from the station that you are work in. So people want to come to the closest break room because it’s only common sense. You don’t want to walk 10 minutes, seven minutes to another break room when there’s one nearby.
So that one is the most where everybody comes in, they throw your food… Amazon don’t tell you, you leave your plate… So they clean every Wednesday, which I learned the hard way. My containers were thrown out a couple times because we supposed to remove it before 6:00 AM. But I’m like, we don’t even stay until 6:00, we leave at 3:30. But when we come, our stuff is gone. Imagine every day you come eat, every Wednesday, and your containers that you brought food with are gone. So I didn’t understand that. The company was like, “There’s nothing we can do.”
So a lot of people will not bring food cooked, whatever. They’ll buy from the machine, which I think that’s what they wanted, people to buy things from the machine. Their machine is cheap, a lot of drinks and stuff like that, but it’s just with the brakes, the distance, the condition of the job, the lack of the air, it is too dusty. Which, it’s a warehouse, it’s supposed to be dusty, but I was like, I feel like certain areas should be cleaned or ask people to do certain thing, give people things to clean with. They’ll give you a broom that can barely stand still. I’m like, “What would this sweep?” But give me more allergies. Why can you guys have a decent broom, something that we can swipe off.
So it’s just a working condition that it’s crazy. And now that we have this bill, I feel like anyone who moves to Minnesota, everyone come to Minnesota will have a better understanding of their rights. One of the bills that was in there that we fought for was the sick pay. Because with Amazon, even though you bring a doctor note, you still didn’t get a sick pay. They put you through all that crap to bring it, you still don’t get your sick pay. You have it, but you don’t qualify, which it still drives me insane.
Maximillian Alvarez: That’s nuts man. And by way of rounding out, I know I can’t keep you for too long, I just wanted to end on that point. If you could say more about what it’s going to mean for warehouse workers at Amazon and beyond now that y’all have fought your asses off to get the warehouse Worker Protection Act passed, and it did. So what is that going to mean for workers at warehouses in Minnesota and what was it like for you to watch it when it got passed?
Khali Jama: Oh, I was there. I was on my TikTok live. I wish TikTok live recorded it, but I was there early. I was the last person to leave. It was the most happiest day for me because… And I’m going to be honest, there was days we didn’t think we’ll accomplish, we didn’t think we’ll win. We had those doubts, but we pushed and pushed. And I said, “God will not give us anything that we can’t carry without it.” So we just have to fight. And we fought day and night with below zeros negatives. Those nights was not fun being out there and doing rallies. So it was the most happiest day for me because I know from now on, if I leave Amazon or any warehouse in Minnesota, anyone who comes to Minnesota, will know that working in a warehouse, you have safety and you got that sick pay.
Especially with Amazon right now, I have a lot of employees been calling me, telling me, ‘Thank you so much. We are not under that pressure of working or losing our job.” Because that was the biggest thing in Amazon, people losing their job. They feared that more than getting injured, hurting themself because they didn’t want to lose their job. Because Amazon did pay good and it was weekly pay, which I understood. So now for me, I can sleep better knowing anyone that work at Amazon is not going to be worried about getting fired or under those rates or under those condition. If they’re sick, they’re willing to go home. And they are able to go home, they’re able to get sick pay, family pay, family sick pay also. Amazon to recognize Eid day, where we could celebrate our Eid without asking them that we should be able… Because in Minnesota, we will have that day that we get, the Eid day. Schools gets off, a lot of places except warehouses. So now warehouses have better understanding with that.
Just for me, it’ll make it easier for me that I can leave knowing that people at Amazon are not under that pressure, not worrying about if they are gone less than a day or they come back and they can’t catch up with that speed, they’ll get fired. Because the app fires you You come to work the next day and you can’t get in the building. And then you look at your app, “Oh, terminated.” But you don’t know why. So they have access to the data. They have rights to know why they’re getting fired, why they’re getting rid of, explanation, which they didn’t have that before.
Amazon is going to add Somalian language as a translating, which the most people who work there are Somalians. Most of the managers are Somalians, but they don’t break down the rules and the rights. I asked for their orientation time. When people come in orientation, to have a better understanding. There was a test, when you come to the orientation, you take. If you fail that, at the end of the nine-hour shift before you leave, they give you this test. If you don’t pass that test, you can’t work there. So I felt like they should be fair with the translating and understanding of those tests, which they’re changing their ways now, one of the employee told me. So it means a lot. And it was the most happiest day for me because I felt like I accomplished something big. Something a lot of people told me I was wasting my time.
Something people said, “Well I don’t know why you’re doing this.” Because there’s days I didn’t sleep. There’s days I was up for 24 hours, trying to gather things. So it wasn’t easy. I had a lot of challenges. But with the East African community Award Center fighting with me, being there with me, the labor meeting, was her name, Eddie Murphy. And also, I forgot her name, I’m sorry. I’m trying to remember the name for the labor… So Emma. Emma and Senator Murphy, the ones who helped us to push this and fought with us and was standing with us with the rallies, came to speak out of the rallies. Because my people always feared losing jobs because I knew their situation with them back home, people depending on them, they could not afford. And majority people that were hiring was people who were literally here 30 days, 60 days. If you hear their stories you’ll go, “Wow, 40 days.”
Which I think is a good opportunity that Amazon is giving, but you shouldn’t treat people like they’re nothing. They should be able to treat people like humans, even though, in this country, they don’t know their rights, they’re doing the dirty jobs that a lot of people don’t want to do. And they’re still coming in and doing their part of work. Why can they be treated like human? And now Amazon has to treat people fair, has to be. When it comes to your health, the injury, because you read the article how the injured was higher than any warehouses. Some of those injured, they were hiding them. There was a couple of times I went to the place to find out how many times I went to the MCare. I said, “Hey, I just need a back history of how many times I’ve been here to the MCare.” And they didn’t have a record of that.
And I’m like, “Every time I come here, you scan my badge. How do you not have a record of me being here?” So now we have access to that. Before you didn’t have access to that. So with any reasons, they can’t just fire you, how easy it was before. Now people have better understanding and better education, and hopefully, educate more in those orientations, those 10 hours orientation, people just sitting there doing nothing. To be taught and give them better knowledge about the company, what the company wants. The standard is not slave work, but to work better and work smart and not to hurt yourself, and just to be fair. So it’s a lot of things that the bill’s fighting, like with the children’s free lunches. So there’s a lot of things with us warehouse workers and Minnesotans, a lot of things that will change this bill.
I don’t know if you read the whole bill, but it will do a lot for my state, which I’m very proud of. And I want to thank to everyone who was part of this bill that fought and pushed it, because there was times this fight, we got turned down a lot of time. I had to do a lot of hearings. I had to go to a lot of different hearings, speak out for the sick pay and stuff and the fairness, and just get vacation pay without using it for your sick pay, or using your vacation time just because you don’t have TOT or PTO.
Because families like me need my vacation time when my kids school close. I plan to take my kids places. So people should be able to keep those vacation time and be separated from the UPT and the unpaid time and volunteer time. So that’s going to change. So it does a lot. And I feel like with other states and cities, it will wake them up to this bill, because I feel like a lot of cities might need it also. With Amazon, they do mistreat. Because I don’t know if you looked at it the past two years, almost 20 cities and states came out protesting against Amazon. So I don’t know if you guys ever seen those article. Kansas City did a couple of walkouts. And New York, I think it was the Staten Island if I’m not wrong.
Maximillian Alvarez: I’ve interviewed Amazon workers at Staten Island. I was there in Bessemer, Alabama when they were trying to unionize. I’ve talked to folks in California who were trying to unionize. It’s just awful the way that they treat people.
Khali Jama: And we all connect, we all talk, we all keep in touch with Amazon and stuff. And I want to help other cities and state have a better understanding with this bill. Because I feel like a company like Amazon should not just come in and make all these false promises and not stick to it and have all these injury rates that they’re hiding from the labor. Because a lot of people don’t go and say, “Oh, my back hurts.” They’ll offer you a painkiller. So when you come from, let’s say, a different country, you here 30 days, you don’t know much. You take a painkiller, because you need that money, you go back, but you don’t know that you can fight this. You don’t know that this is not okay. Because other countries besides America, they don’t care for employees. I’m just going to speak my mind that I don’t think people care about employee workers as much as the Western country do.
I don’t know in Europe, but in America. And that changed. This change, that bill shows that, okay, our voice matters if we stick together, fight together and voice out. Because those hearings were not fine. Some of them were like 7:00 AM, some of them would say like 13:00 PM to 17:00 PM. So it was up and down. So I had to always have my schedule open. I had to always work with my schedule, which was very challenging. So some days, as a mental health, I have certain patients that I had to deal with. So just it does a lot, it changed a lot, and I hope other cities and states will look what we did and just fight together, be together. And our voice matters besides any other voice. No corporation, no billionaire or trillionaire company can bring you down if we stick together and fight it.
This will not happen if we wouldn’t fight and keep our voices more heard, made it louder. And I spoke on my social medias. I post them about what the situation Amazon, which is crazy. The thing that throws me off is a lot of people got in trouble, but Amazon never fired me, never came to me, never even questioned me. It’s like they would see me but they would not say anything. And people be like, “What do you do?” I say, “Maybe I speak my mind.” And I felt like maybe they know I know my rights that they just can come to me, because I know I’ll go step one, step two, step three. Maybe they’re testing people, I don’t know. But for me, I always spoke, my mind, spoke loudly. There was times I was like, “I wish they could fire me, because I really want to see what more power I can have against them.”
But it just never happened. But the bill changed a lot. And knowing that people in Amazon today are not fear working under those condition, knowing that they will be safe if injury or something bad happened, may God forbid, they can fight it. They can have a case. And just knowing that the state of Minnesota had our backs and supported us, and that meant the world. And that’s why it was the most happiest day because I really thought it will never come to that day. It’s been a long… I started 2022, but there was people who were in it from 2018. Like Abduragman Award Center were in there from 2018. And the reason they didn’t succeed was when the pandemic hit, a lot of people quit, a lot of people got let go. And the crazy thing, when the pandemic hit, my friend who refer me to this job, Amazon, the first time, was getting paid $40 because Amazon couldn’t have no workers.
They couldn’t hire anyone because of the COVID. A lot of people was taking all those extra monies. So people didn’t want to work. But when they start hiring, Amazon start hiring from $21 to up. Then they’ll hire you $18, but they’ll give you extra $3 for peak season. But guess what? After a couple months that I worked there, they took those $3 peak season. And I think that’s where a lot of people was like, “I can’t work $18 when I’m working overnights, 10 hours a day.” It’s like, “How is that fair?” So that’s one of the reasons most of the protests behind me started of pay. For me, the pay was not important. For me, the condition and the safety was more important. Because you can make money anywhere. Money comes and goes, but your health, there’s no price on your health.
So that was like, rate can always come next, we can always fight for rates, but right now I’m focused on the safety of our work, the safety of the stations that we work in. This chemicals that we are touching and Amazon, not letting us know there’s chemical in the warehouse, which it says it’s not supposed to be, but it’s always there. Always like, “Oh, it was an accident.” I was asking, ‘What if I would rub my hands?” And then they have gloves that does not protect you. I don’t even know the reason why we wear those gloves working there. But I will not protect you. So I can sleep better, that’s all I can say. And I know a lot of people who worked there, people who struggled, were feared to get fired because they were working with me and didn’t want Amazon to know who they were, today, tell me thank you so much. I don’t have to worry about not missing or not reaching certain rate because I’ll get fired. And that means a lot to me. So, the bill will change the state of Minnesota. Hope for good.