Amazon in dispute with union over Muslim prayer areas

Calls for greater access to dedicated prayer rooms at Seattle headquarters
Amazon in dispute with union over Muslim prayer areas
It followed a ‘pray-in’ at the campus on February 17 to highlight the issue. (Getty Images)
By Sarah Townsend
Sun 02 Apr 2017 11:45 AM

A US labour union is pressing e-commerce giant Amazon to increase access to dedicated prayer rooms for its Muslim employees.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – which represents 1.5 million public service and hospital workers, building services and security staff across North America and Canada, according to its website – claims some Muslim employees at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters have been denied space to pray during working hours.

Amazon is understood to have recently created dedicated prayer rooms around the US campus, although it is not known exactly when this happened or whether it was in the run-up to Amazon’s acquisition of UAE e-commerce site souq.com last week.

Amazon declined to provide an official response when contacted by Arabian Business. It is understood the company has always provided some sort of space for employees and vendors to pray, for example in quiet rooms on campus.

However, SEIU claims many Muslim employees remain unhappy with the prayer facilities on-site, or allege that their individual requests for space have gone unanswered.

In particular, commentators in a Facebook group set up by campaigners argue that, while some workers have been provided prayer space after submitting a request to Amazon, others, including subcontracted workers, are not being allowed access.

A group of disgruntled Amazon employees, together with SEIU representatives and supporters of the Muslim community, were due to stage a protest in Seattle last Friday imploring Amazon to take greater action to support employees of all religions. It followed a ‘pray-in’ at the campus on February 17 to highlight the issue.

SEIU said in a statement to media last week: “As Amazon gains a foothold in the Middle East, there is a question if it understands and respects the Muslim faith.

“Unlike other companies in locations with large Muslim populations, Amazon has not supported Muslim service workers requesting space to pray during their law-mandated work breaks.

“To date, Amazon has not responded [to our questions] and concern is growing in the Seattle community.”

A SEIU representative told the Pray-In Facebook page that the union had held talks with Amazon on the issue, but these have apparently been inconclusive and Amazon has declined to provide a formal statement on the matter.

An Amazon employee named as Usama Baioumy contested some of SEIU’s allegations in comments on the Pray-In Facebook page. He said: “We [requested] a prayer room from Amazon. There [sic] action was to collect all our requirement about it and after they had all the information, they provided the rooms and sent us an email for the locations.

“Yes, some buildings have restricted access, but the prayer rooms are not in these buildings.”

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