German union leads 4-day Amazon strike

Just one week after a major strike by Amazon workers in Italy, their German counterparts look to be following suit.

German trade union ver.di has called on Amazon employees in six warehouses — or “fulfillment centers” — across Germany to stop work from Monday through Thursday.

The strikes are taking place in warehouses in Rheinberg, Werne, Koblenz, Leipzig and two sites in Bad Hersfeld.

The union called on the online retailer to recognize collective agreements for the retail sector in addition to a collective agreement for “good and healthy work.” The company has yet to sign a collective agreement in Germany.

Orhan Akman, the ver.di representative for retail and mail order, estimated around 2,000 employees across the six warehouses would participate in the strike. An Amazon spokesperson said over 90 percent of the company’s employees in its Germany sites are working as regularly scheduled.

“We think Amazon is ill-advised to resist its employees’ and unions’ interests,” Akman said in an interview. “A social company pays adequate wages according to retail collective agreements and holds conversations with unions.”

Ver.di also criticizes Amazon for failing to maintain COVID-19 safety regulations.

“Due to the perpetual rush, keeping distance and respecting other guidelines against an infection is often nearly impossible. But Amazon still refuses to sign a binding wage agreement to protect workers,” Akman said.

An Amazon spokesperson countered: “We have a well-established cooperation with the works councils, elected by all associates, representing all — unlike the union, who represents a minority only.”

“We already offer excellent pay, excellent benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment,” the spokesperson added.

A global struggle

This week’s strike in Germany falls just as U.S. Amazon workers in Alabama are coming to the end of their own union drive. The vote heads to a count today.

“In Europe, Amazon deals with unions and if they can deal with unions in Europe, they sure as hell can deal with unions in the United States of America,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a vocal supporter of the drive, at a pro-union rally in Alabama.

But this month’s strikes in Italy and Germany suggest that even in Europe, trade unions aren’t satisfied with Amazon’s commitment to social dialogue.

“Our demand, especially to the German management, is that they have to stop blocking our efforts,” said Akman. “No company has ever perished because it pays workers according to the retail collective agreements or because it talks to unions.”

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