Amazon workers strike

Amazon workers in Germany on December 16 went on strike to protest low wages, company spying, and job speed up.

The strike, the latest in a series of rolling strikes, was also aimed at winning a collective bargaining agreement with Amazon.

More than 1,100 workers at two Amazon distribution centers in Bad Hersfeld and Leipzig and an office in Graban stayed off the job in support of the action. Those on strike represent about 20 percent of permanent workforce at the struck Amazon worksites.

Another strike at a distribution center in Werne is scheduled to take place on December 17.

Some members of the workers’ union, ver. di, traveled to the Amazon world headquarters in Seattle where they rallied on December 16 with members of US labor unions.

Amazon, whose most recent annual sales in Germany totaled $8.6 billion, has imported its US style of labor relations to Germany.

“The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure (speed up), and short-term contracts,” said Stephanie Nutzenberger, a ver. di board member.

Amazon workers have gone on strike four times since May.

Low pay has been one of the reasons for the strikes.

Ver. di wants Amazon to pay its distribution center workers the same as unionized workers in Germany’s retail and mail order sector.

The company currently pays its workers a lower wage comparable to wages paid in Germany’s logistics industry.

Pay, however, isn’t the only concern. Workers are under constant surveillance on the job and are continually pushed to do more.

“The workers are treated more as robots than humans,” said Markus Hoffmann-Achenbach, a ver. di organizer to the New York Times.

Conditions at Amazon distribution centers in Germany are not unlike those in the UK where a BBC investigation found that Amazon distribution center workers called pickers walk as much as 11 miles a shift and are expected to collect orders every 33 seconds.

The BBC quoted one of the UK’s leading experts on the effects of stress at work as saying that, “The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.”

In Seattle, more than 50 US trade unionist rallied with ver. di members in Seattle. One of the ver. di members who travelled to Seattle for the rally was Nancy Becker, an American who has worked for Amazon in Germany since 2001.

“I’m coming to Seattle to dare (Amazon CEO) Jeff Bezos to try working as a picker for a single week,” said Becker to the New York Times. “I’m sure he would not survive.”

The rally at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters was co-sponsored by the Washington State Labor Council,  the ML King County Labor Council in Seattle, CWA, Teamsters, UFCW, SEIU, and Working Washington.

“We’re standing in solidarity with (the German Amazon workers),” said Kathy Cummings of the Washington State Labor Council to USA Today. “We are asking that Amazon respect the union there in Germany and negotiate in a way that is acceptable to ver. di.

George Kohl, senior director of CWA said that Amazon’s attempt to export its style of labor relations abroad is a dangerous precedent.

“Ver.di recognizes the danger of allowing the US model of suppressing workers’ rights and living standards to take hold in other countries, and is standing strong against this assault on workers,” said Kohl. “Members of CWA who have built a strong partnership with ver.di are supporting the strike by Amazon Germany workers and are letting them know, as ver.di members have promised us, we have your back.”

Ver. di has helped the CWA with its organizing campaign at T-Mobile, a German owned company.

Frank Bsirske, ver. di’s chairman, said that the Amazon workers strike and the US support for it sets a great example for all workers.

“(Amazon) employees are now taking the initiative,” said Bsirske. “These people are performing successful and reliable services day by day. With great justice, they call their employer for appreciativeness, respect, and a clear commitment to the collective agreement of the retail and mail order business.

“The act of solidarity of American unions for the strikes in Germany is a powerful sign that cooperation among workers is not bounded by national borders and continents. These protests are an encouraging response to the questionable methods of a global company like Amazon.”

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