May 16, 2013

Amazon employees strike in Germany


More than 1,000 staffers at two German Amazon warehouses walked off the job Tuesday in a one-day work stoppage. The workers are seeking higher pay and collective bargaining agreements, which are standard for German retail and mail order firms. As we noted previously on MobyLives, workers had voted to approve a strike in early May.

The total numbers of strikers has been variously reported. Bloomberg, relying on a website report from the Ver.di union, has the number at 1,500. The Financial Times, relying on a union negotiatior, says that “About 500 of 2,000 workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Leipzig took part in the strike….  while several hundred more joined in Bad Hersfeld, where two Amazon warehouses employ 3,300.” Bloomberg adds that employees at a Hesse warehouse also participated.

There are eight Amazon warehouses in Germany, employing about 9,000 workers in total.

Both the FT and Bloomberg point to the fact that Germany is Amazon’s largest market outside the U.S., with German sales of $8.7 billion last year. According to Bloomberg, workers are seeking pay increases to “10.66 euros ($13.84) an hour from 9.30 euros in Leipzig and to 12.18 euros from 9.83 euros in Bad Hersfeld, and to pay extra for night shifts starting before midnight.”

An Amazon spokesperson said the strikes will not affect shipments in Germany.

That said, the action is significant — it’s the first meaningful labor action against Amazon anywhere in the world and an ironic mark against Amazon, a high-tech company suffering from the “distinctly old world malaise of industrial action,” as the FT puts it.

The strike also come amidst continuing labor issues for Amazon: in the U.S., a judge recently allowed a class-action lawsuit representing former Amazon temps to proceed; in Germany, a much-discussed television documentary highlighted the situation of temps in Germany. As the Guardian reports, the program, which aired earlier this year, “accused [Amazon] of hiring warehouse workers from crisis-hit countries such as Spain, and housing them in crowded hostels” and of using “security personnel with neo-Nazi connections” that bullied the temps.


Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.