Around 500 workers at two of German’s Amazon warehouses went on strike Monday morning to protest their pay and working conditions.
Amazon has said that the strike will not disrupt its holiday deliveries because the majority of its workers at the warehouses did not leave and because it has 28 warehouses across Europe. Amazon has around 10,000 full-time and 10,000 seasonal employees in Germany. Union supporters believe the company is misclassifying workers in order to underpay them, and the strikers hope to force the company to raise its starting pay from the current level of nearly $12 an hour.
The German dispute reveals sharp contrasts with the workplace situations that face Amazon workers in the United States, where Amazon has been largely successful at preventing unionization. When the Communication Workers of America tried to unionize 400 workers in 2000, Amazon closed the call center they were targeting. The company has also trained managers how to spot potential union activity and has passed out anti-union materials.
In 2011, a report found that Amazon warehouse workers were forced to work in 100 degree temperatures even if pregnant and that the company encouraged employees to cover up injuries. Jobs postings have said that Amazon warehouse employees must be prepared to walk 10 to 15 miles a day. Several Amazon workers, from warehouse staff to workers in the corporate offices, have spoken out against the experiences online.
Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board investigated Amazon after a worker alleged that he was punished for raising concerns about the company’s security. Amazon and the board reached a settlement in November that allowed employees to talk about pay and working conditions without fear of punishment. The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case about potential wage theft at Amazon. Two warehouse employees allege that the company forced them to spend two hours a week in security lines before leaving work but did not pay them for the time spent in line.
The backbreaking work may be the same for Amazon’s German employees, but the recourse those workers have is very different. Ver.di, the German labor union that organized Monday’s strike, said the move is in response to increasing pressure on workers due to the Christmas season. Ver.di representatives said they want Amazon to treat and pay warehouse staff as mail order and retail workers, while Amazon has said they are logistic workers. If Amazon recognized their warehouse staff as retail workers, their wages would be set through collective bargaining. In Germany, the starting salary for retail workers is between 10 and 13 euros an hour, while for logistic workers, it is only 9.55 euros an hour.
This is not the first time that Amazon workers in Germany have held strikes. In September, around 2,000 workers went on strike following a failure in wage negotiations. According to ZDNet, Ver.di has been organizing strikes against the company since last April, with day-long strikes that attracted between 380 and 500 workers. During the 2013 Christmas season, over 1,000 unionized Amazon workers participated in walk-outs at German warehouses.