April 2, 2014
German Amazon workers stage first strike of the year
by Alex Shephard
Last year, German workers at Amazon warehouses repeatedly went on strike, demanding higher wages and better working conditions. The last strikes occurred during the holiday season.
Workers at Amazon’s Leipzig warehouse staged the first strike of the year yesterday; 500 of the warehouse’s 1,200 workers were expected to take part. According to 24/7 Wall Street, “The union is repeating its demand that workers be paid wages according to the national standard for the mail order and retail sectors. Amazon classifies the employees as logistics workers who are paid on a lower scale. The company said its employees are paid above average wages for that classification.” Workers first demanded to be reclassified last spring; they’ve also called for other benifits, including Christmas bonuses and overtime for work done on nights, Sundays, and holidays. But despite a number of walkouts and short-term strikes, little progress has been made.
Amazon, unsurprisingly, is still having none of it. In a statement released yesterday, they hit back by saying their employees didn’t have it so bad. Here’s Fortune‘s Claire Zillman‘s summation:
“Our employees earn toward the upper end of the pay scale compared to other logistics companies. The entry wage for an Amazon employee in Germany is 9.55 euros an hour, plus bonus, insurance, and pension pay. After one year employees earn more than 10 euros, and after two years, employees get shares in the company.” Amazon added that in all of its “logistics centers” it has “employee representation — either as works councils or as employee committees with whom we work closely together to make sure employees’ interests are considered.”
Zillman’s report is also excellent for delving into the larger issue at stake: Amazon’s intense anti-union sentiments just don’t jive well in Germany or, for that matter, much of Central Europe:
Amazon’s organized labor battles in the U.S. — where union representation is 11% — pop up and then tend to go away quickly. That’s not the case in Germany, where unions represent about 18% of the workforce and companies face stricter worker protections.
“Amazon seems to be clashing with the German employment culture, in which, of course, unions — while not as powerful as they once were — are significantly more powerful than those in the United States,” says John Logan, associate professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.
So far, Amazon and its employees have been engaged in a lengthy stalemate in Germany. Amazon’s revenues are soaring, but the powerful trade unions aren’t going anywhere. As the director director of The Worker Institute at Cornell University, Lowell Turner, told Zillman, “This is going to keep happening until Amazon gets its act together.” With Amazon facing difficulty across Central Europe as it tries to expand to meet demand, the unions seem to have leverage; time will tell if they can use it.
Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.