Amazon employees in Germany and potentially the U.S. are looking to improve their working conditions in a series of wildcat strikes against the e-commerce giant. These mark the first strikes against the major online retailer anywhere in the world and involve hundreds of Amazon workers at two fulfillment centers. Now protesters are hoping to bring the issue a little closer to home for Amazon by taking the battle to the streets outside the retailer’s headquarters in Seattle.
The rally, scheduled for 10 a.m. today Pacific Time, also hopes to draw in potentially disgruntled union workers and members of a sympathetic public. While the big tech companies are getting richer each day, there seems to be a backlash developing even in Silicon Valley, according to the New York Times. In San Francisco last week protesters briefly blocked a bus transporting Google workers to one of its campuses.
This ordeal comes just two weeks after Amazon introduced its drone delivery idea on 60 Minutes, which was met with widespread criticism and mockery. Perhaps Amazon was looking to roll this out sooner rather than later, too, as robots might be the only workers they have left if these strikes in Seattle gain momentum!
If Germany, Amazon’s second-largest market, is any indication, there could be significant labor turmoil for the company without any signs of resolution. The German labor union Ver.di believes Amazon workers should be classified as retail employees, given the nature of what Amazon does. Amazon, however, claims they are logistics workers who deserve to be paid less. Should warehouse workers have more control over how their workplace operates? Amazon doesn’t think so – it would impede maximum flexibility. Dave Clark, the company’s vice president of worldwide operations and customer service, told the NYT last summer that any negotiations here would impede efficiency and innovation.
“The workers are treated more as robots than human,” Markus Hoffmann-Achenbach, a Ver.di organizer at the Amazon warehouse in Germany, said on his way to the Seattle demonstration. He continued:
As a worldwide company, Amazon should treat their workers fairly and with respect in every country. The solidarity of American unions and Ver.di, the united services union of Germany, is a sign that social movements are not bounded by national borders and that in times of globalization the workers worldwide stand together as one.”
“I’m coming to Seattle to dare Jeff Bezos to try working as a picker for a single week,” said Nancy Becker, an American employed by Amazon in Germany since 2001. “I’m sure he would not survive.”
While an Amazon spokesman declined to comment to the NYT, Ralf Kleber, the top Amazon executive in Germany, was dismissive about the strikers in a recent interview with Reuters where he said the walkout did not slow down delivery schedules and that these disgruntled workers were mostly unskilled and had already been unemployed for a long time. With these words he was suggesting that they should be grateful for ever working for Amazon.
With this type of public attitude and disregard for Amazon employees, it’s no surprise that the union is promising another strike just before the holidays. In response, Amazon is accusing these strikers of “trying to steal Christmas,” according to reports in the German press.
It looks like storks aren’t the only ones flapping their wings these days over Amazon’s robotic workforce and policies.
Featured image by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/DPA, via Associated Press