By Benjamin Romano

The Seattle Times

Amazon critics and competitors are turning the retailer’s fifth-annual summer sales event into a platform to air their grievances and push their own wares.

A planned strike Monday by workers at a Minnesota fulfillment center is making suburban Minneapolis a focus for the Prime Day protests, with a union representing airline pilots for Amazon Air contractors and Amazon Employees for Climate Justice sending supporters. Solidarity rallies were planned at other Amazon facilities, including two in Portland.

Meanwhile, market research from RetailMeNot predicts 250 competing retailers will put items on sale this week, up from 194 last year and just 7 when Amazon began the promotion in 2015. They’re in pursuit of shoppers conditioned by Amazon to buy during what used to be a relatively slow summer period for retailers. The e-commerce colossus’s summer sale is effectively moving up the window for back-to-school shopping.

“If others want to celebrate our birthday, the more the merrier,” Amazon said in a statement, addressing the increased competition.

As for the labor activism, Amazon said that big corporate events present opportunities for its “critics, including unions, to raise awareness for their cause, in this case, increased membership dues.”

Some workers at Amazon’s 3-year-old Shakopee, Minnesota, fulfillment center were expected to walk off the job for up to six hours on Monday, highlighting grievances including pay, workloads and advancement opportunities.

Amazon said it already offers what the workers are demanding and accused its critics of “conjuring misinformation to work in their favor.”

“We can only conclude that the people who plan to attend the event on Monday are simply not informed,” the company said. “If these groups — unions and the politicians they rally to their cause — really want to help the American worker, we encourage them to focus their energy on passing legislation for an increase in the federal minimum wage, because $7.25 is too low.”

Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour last year, and last week it announced a major program to expand job training opportunities for 100,000 U.S. employees.

That includes fulfillment center workers, who can get free courses to become IT technicians or train for other in-demand fields. That has not quieted labor organizers.

Teamsters Local 1224, which represents pilots who fly for air carriers that contract with Amazon Air, planned to send a representative to Minnesota and began its own digital ad campaign to elevate its complaints about work hours and pay.

“As we know firsthand, Amazon’s business model too often neglects the well-being of the workers who make the e-commerce giant so incredibly successful,” Daniel Wells, pilot with Amazon carrier Atlas Air and union local president, said in a statement. “We’re proud to be the airline professionals who fly the planes that deliver Amazon’s packages to millions of Americans, but we want to make sure we’re engaged in a sustainable, long-term operation. We hope that Amazon takes seriously these striking workers’ calls for change.”

The Minnesota workers also sought support from the group of Amazon employees that pushed a shareholder resolution on climate planning and published an open letter to Jeff Bezos and the company’s board co-signed by nearly 8,000 Amazon workers.