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Amazon Workers Strike In Germany As Christmas Orders Peak 606

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the price-of-free-shipping dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "The Washington Post reports that in Germany, Amazon's second-biggest market behind the United States, hundreds of Amazon.com workers went on strike just as pre-Christmas sales were set to peak, in a dispute over pay and conditions that has raged for months. Amazon, which employs 9,000 warehouse staff members in Germany plus 14,000 seasonal workers at nine distribution centers, says that 1,115 employees joined the strike at three sites. 'Amazon must realize it cannot export its anti-union labor model to European shores. We call on the company to come to the table and sign a global agreement that guarantees the rights of workers,' says Philip Jennings of the global trade union UNI. Verdi organized several short stoppages this year to try to force Amazon to accept collective-bargaining agreements ... The union says Amazon workers receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs and that other retailers pay overtime, but Amazon does not. 'What Amazon is doing is taking this American race-to-the-bottom roadshow to Germany and trying it out on our German brothers and sisters,' says David Freiboth. Amazon has defended its wage policies, saying that employees earn toward the upper end of the pay scale of logistics companies in Germany. Amazon also says it prefers to address employment issues with worker councils at individual sites rather than through negotiations with the union. Amazon says that there have been no delays to deliveries ... adding that Amazon uses its whole European logistics network during the Christmas period to ensure delivery times. A delegation of German workers was set to rally at Amazon's headquarters in Seattle along with U.S. unions. 'We're standing in solidarity with them. We are asking that Amazon respect the union there in Germany and negotiate in a way that is acceptable to Verdi,' says Kathy Cummings of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which was also attending the protest in Seattle."
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Amazon Workers Strike In Germany As Christmas Orders Peak

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  • Robots (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Qubit (100461) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:11AM (#45712855) Homepage Journal

    I sense a whole lot more of them in Amazon's (near) future...

    • Re:Robots (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @12:51PM (#45715455)

      I sense a whole lot more of them in Amazon's (near) future...

      I wouldn't be surprised if most of the fetching is done via robot. However ,there's still a few things a robot can't or doesn't do. The Kiva systems maintain the stacks and stock in the warehouse, but all they do in the end is fetch a pile of items and bring it to someone who takes the item and packs it.

      I would be surprised if Amazon's warehouses in Germany aren't mostly robots - the big army of people are doing the jobs that haven't or aren't automated yet - picking the items off the shelf of goods the robot brings them, stuffing it int the box, adding the necessary filler and then sealing it. Even tasks like assembling the box aren't automated - so the packer has to pick the right box and tape it up or glue it together. And applying all the shipping labels to the box and all that.

      And then there's loading the randomly-sized packages onto the truck - as full as possible.

      Even though we're talking about 10k+ jobs total, the vast majority of them are doing those things 24/7. There aren't many of them wandering the warehouse searching for items - it's just packing, sealing, labelling and loading.

      Oh, and the dozens of people monitoring the conveyor system because a jammed package can mean real chaos - when you're getting what, 300+ orders a second, stopping the line for a few minutes to clear the jam has real repercussions (and it'll take a few minutes since it has to be tagged out before starting the fix). The packers rapidly backup and the loaders run out of packages so the whole system is idle.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:11AM (#45712857)

    they're already doing it pretty heavily... this sort of thing... striking in the middle of a christmas season... it inspires drastic steps.

  • by waspleg (316038) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:17AM (#45712905) Journal

    How apt. It's too bad Americans can't see this but Germans can.

    • by speedlaw (878924)
      American workers have been forced to compete with the third world. Why should Germans be surprised that companies want to do this to them. It is not about nations, it is now about how corporations can destroy wage bases and workers benefits. US Amazon does NOT have a Union.....luckily the German state has a place for worker's organization. I hope German workers stand firm.
      • by njnnja (2833511) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @10:44AM (#45713691)

        Americans are actually behind Europeans in the "race to the bottom": median income by country [wikipedia.org]. Median household income in the US is 25% higher than Germany, 43% higher than Italy, and 70% higher than Spain. The only European countries with higher median income than the US are oil-rich Norway, or ones that benefit from "don't ask don't tell" banking sectors. So the typical American worker is doing better than the typical worker just about anywhere in the world.

        To the extent that the "race to the bottom" means competing with third world nations like China for manufacturing jobs, note that China's rapid economic growth the in the last 20 years has done more to improve the quality of life and reduce worldwide inequality than just about any economic development program. While there are many in America and Germany who end up getting the short end of the stick, when comparing the additional misery of hundreds of thousands of Westerners who lost their livelihood versus the improvement in the standard of living for tens of millions of people in the third world from subsistence farming to a modicum of caloric stability, it is difficult to say that the "race to the bottom" is an entirely bad thing for humanity as a whole, or that America has not done an acceptable job of dealing with this challenge at least as well as other nations.

        • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @11:09AM (#45714007)

          The difference, of course, is the health insurance.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Rinikusu (28164)

            The health insurance and the strong social nets. I'd gladly trade 25% of my income for this.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cayenne8 (626475)

        American workers have been forced to compete with the third world. Why should Germans be surprised that companies want to do this to them. It is not about nations, it is now about how corporations can destroy wage bases and workers benefits. US Amazon does NOT have a Union.....luckily the German state has a place for worker's organization. I hope German workers stand firm.

        But sorting stuff to ship is menial labor, and deserves menial wages. This is not a job for a grown adult to have to try to support a fa

        • by Arkham (10779) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @12:02PM (#45714763)

          Jobs like this, with no skills are a dime a dozen, and are the types of jobs (like fast food) that are FIRST jobs, ones for young kids to start with and learn the work ethic and then move up and on to better jobs.

          Someone sorting mail or flipping burgers does not rate getting $20/hr or more. That's just nonsense.

          I'm not disagreeing with you in principle. However, the reality is, there are tens (hundreds?) of millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide with no real skills whatsoever. None. They're capable of nothing but jobs without a skill requirement. These people rightfully want to sleep, eat, buy stuff, and get healthcare just like everyone else. And yet, they either lack the circumstance, the ability, the willpower, or the mental acuity to grow beyond a job that requires no skills. I am not judging how they came to be in this situation, only remarking that this is their reality.

          This is a fact. These people need to be able to survive their whole lives. They need to earn enough not to be a burden on the rest of us. How can this be accomplished? If we aren't willing to give them higher wages, and we're not willing to pay for them to get training to do something more meaningful, then this situation will never change.

        • by Vitriol+Angst (458300) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @03:56PM (#45717817)

          And yet $20 an hour job is all many people can get. With college education. With having gone through their retirement account. And looking at their remaining productive years.

          It is nonsense. So let me have a CEO job and I'll do it for a mere $500,000. You are going to need a LOT of CEO positions to get rid of this "nonsense."

          I'm really shocked your comment got karma. If everyone gets paid a living wage -- that's the cost of business. Because then people don't have to beg or use government assistance.

        • Intellectual elitism at it's finest - bravo, asshole. Not everyone has the same opportunities, drive, abilities or circumstances.
          What's wrong with a living wage, would you rather have them drawing a benefit to support their families? Maybe they shouldn't be allowed to have children?

          Merry christmas, fuckhead >:-/

  • by Qbertino (265505) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:18AM (#45712913)

    Amazon must realize it cannot export its anti-union labor model to European shores. ... ... powered by lobbying machine KPMG Consulting, their shill Gerhard 'Let's wrap him in barbed wire and shoot him into the sun' Schröder, Hartz 4 cheap-flexible-workforce-supply powered by German taxpayer and so forth. ... There, fixed that for you.

    As much as I love shopping for stuff at amazon, I'm totally with these strikers. Kick them where it hurts is my vote on this! Go, workers rights, go! Voll in die Eier! ... I hope this spills over into the US, a notable signal no-holds barred neo-con corporate-socialism disguised as free market capitalism desperately needs. Here and across the pond.

    My 2 cents.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:44AM (#45713103)

      A friend of mine down on his luck and desperate for money worked last year for a few weeks at one of Amazon's fulfillment centers during their holiday hiring surge. Told me some stories that were Orwellian in the degree that people were "managed", with a ruthless efficiency that rivaled the mechanical processing of the products themselves. From the moment the trucks rolled in with the goods to the second they rolled out again, every moment of every item including the employees were tracked, itemized, stamped.... It was pretty unbelievable the conditions people were working in a Modern Times [youtube.com]-like cog-in-a-machine way.

      The pay was shit, the turnover ridiculous, and my friend like most people there didn't last very long. David Sederis or someone would have a field day with this.

  • In one corner you've got an organisational of thousands with huge financial resources and political clout using its sheer size to say how and when people should be employed, and in the other corner you've got a union.

  • What do we reckon is the probability of the Washington Post starting an investigative report on a story like this?
  • by The_DoubleU (603071) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:26AM (#45712985)

    The union says Amazon workers receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs and that other retailers pay overtime, but Amazon does not. Amazon has defended its wage policies, saying that employees earn toward the upper end of the pay scale of logistics companies in Germany.

    Please note that the union sees the work as a mail-order job, where wages are higher.
    Amazon thinks of it as a logistics job.
    The union demands that Amazon recognize that the workers are in the mail-order business and pay accordingly.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      That makes sense. From the union's perspective, the workers are doing mail-order work, filling orders to be shipped. From the company's perspective, the workers are just one step in a global distribution network, which is clearly a logistics position.

      • Which leads us to the strange point that german unions think that the same job (running around a warehouse taking stuff from shelves, wrap them in cardboard) should be paid diffferently depending on the field the company operates in - mail order or general logistics.

        And here's the punch line: workers of both fields are part of the same union!

        So why, instead of fighting to raise the general payment for logistics worker to the level that amazon pays them (which is above the logistics level), do they single ou

  • Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

    by Notabadguy (961343) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:29AM (#45713017)

    FTA....

    1. Amazon says that it's pay is already near the top of the scale for logistic centers.

    2. German Union Organizers have a problem with Amazon defining their distribution warehouses as "logistic centers" because it allows them to pay less than they would otherwise be required to.

    Germany's strike is really a strike against Amazon fulfillment centers being allowed to classify themselves as "Logistics" centers. I'm curious what a better definition would be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:30AM (#45713021)

    "Amazon also says it prefers to address employment issues with worker councils at individual sites rather than through negotiations with the union."

    Yeah, I bet they do.

    That's actually the reason we have unions in the first place, you know...

    • by Tom (822)

      We actually have two systems of worker representation in Germany, related but not identical.

      The unions are much the same as everywhere else in the world. They represent all the workers of a certain trade.

      The worker councils are small groups of employees of individual companies (or even individual sites for large companies), elected by all the workers. Their job is mostly focussed on day-to-day employee issues, like working conditions. They are explicitly not allowed to discuss wages, as that is union territ

  • Unfortunate (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:33AM (#45713041)

    It's sad that Amazon and other organizations in the US have succeeded so much in suppressing Unions.

    I guess I'll do a little whistleblowing on a job I had with Joann Fabrics here in the US in one of their warehouses. It was during the Christmas season and they hired many temp employees from temp agencies to fill out their staff to meet orders. I was one of many "pickers", someone who hauls heavy stuff all day (20+ pounds, all day for 8 hours) in a very dusty, dirty warehouse. The air was thick with the dust, so much so that if I didn't wear a mask, I'd be hacking up phlegm within an hour. Most people working there didn't wear masks. One guy said that, because many of the boxes come from overseas, he gets a rash every fall that "is red and itches like crazy". It happens around the same time shipments come in.

    They treated us pretty badly, running us hard, as hard as the people who were there for 20 years, and expecting us to perform at their pace or get canned. You had your stats told to you every day. When I started at a whopping $8.00/hr, I was told I'd get a $.25 raise after working for 600 hours. I wanted to laugh in the supervisor's face.

    This is the way these warehouses are, generally. As a worker you are paid crap, treated like crap, expected to work insanely hard, and if your health suffers, oh well.

  • Not Amazon's Fault (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Psychotria (953670) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @09:34AM (#45713051)

    I'm not sure why Amazon is being singled out here, except perhaps that it's a great example. The root problem is the greed of American-based companies and their total disregard or apathy towards their employees. The only people working for these parasitic companies that make money are the directors and C*s; their inflated value of what the "top people" do and the remuneration they award these so-called "top people" is outrageous. There really does need to a proper evaluation of how wages within a US-based company are distributed amongst the employees. Is a CEO really worth the same as 10000 (or more) "workers"? No, of course not. For a start, without workers there is no company and there is no profit because without workers the damn company can't even make a cent. And don't get me started about boards having to look out for their shareholders; if that was truly the case then proper and fair distribution of remuneration throughout the workers would be exactly the same (it's just the the C*s wouldn't earn 10 (or more) figure salaries whilst the minions earn 5 figure salaries, or maybe 6 if they're lucky.) The greed is sickening. The US culture is sickening. More and more countries are realising this. I fully support the workers; if they don't stand up, who will? It does seem that US workers seem to just accept this shit, but fortunately the rest of the world does seem to have more of a clue.

    • by duckgod (2664193) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @10:41AM (#45713647)

      Is a CEO really worth the same as 10000 (or more) "workers"? No, of course not.

      Yeah actually they are. Every decision a CEO makes is a decision with potentially billions on the line. A hundred workers could do their best to destroy the company and they won't be able to do as much damage as one decision by a CEO. CEOs are paid a lot because there is a high demand for people who won't make billion dollar fuck ups.

      • by Psychotria (953670) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @11:01AM (#45713907)

        What happens if they do make a billion dollar fuck up? They get a big golden parachute and dismissed. Big deal; i.e. there is no risk for them.

        • by kbolino (920292) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @11:27AM (#45714259)

          You sit on the board of directors of a failing corporation. Your investors are starting to sell their shares, and your bond rating was just downgraded. What do you do? The "easy" solution is to hire some well known CEO to shore up the company's image. Of course, you have to convince someone who is probably not a complete moron to lead a company that's headed the way of the Hindenburg. So you offer a ridiculously generous compensation package, meant not only to convince the person to take the job in the first place, but also to cover for any loss of reputation he or she might suffer from being associated with a failing enterprise. So what seems like the rape and pillage of a worker's paradise is actually a last ditch effort to keep everybody from losing their jobs, workers and management included. Of course, this strategy rarely succeeds in the long term, but it does keep the corporation limping along a little while longer.

          Everyone derides management, but few people are competent at the task, and fewer still want to do it. It ought to come as no surprise that most managers are incompetent. People see only what they let themselves see, and "workers" are no different from "management" in this aspect.

      • Is a CEO really worth the same as 10000 (or more) "workers"? No, of course not.

        Yeah actually they are. Every decision a CEO makes is a decision with potentially billions on the line. A hundred workers could do their best to destroy the company and they won't be able to do as much damage as one decision by a CEO. CEOs are paid a lot because there is a high demand for people who won't make billion dollar fuck ups.

        And, as we learned in 2008, even when those people make their billion dollar fuckups, they get fucking rewarded, not fired.

        What's that? Your piss-poor management decisions cost us seventeen billion? Well, I guess we'll have to fire you (you know, for show), but don't feel too bad - we've got this nice golden parachute and lovely severance package for you. You know, just a couple hundred million to live on while you search for another company to tank.

        That said, since CEO pay is obviously not tied to performa

      • I have yet to see any convincing evidence that a highly-paid CEO is more willing or able to make these "billion dollar decisions" than a poorly-paid assembly line worker. I'm pretty sure if you took a random guy off the line, marched him to his new corner office, sat him down in his new plush leather chair, and told him over his rich mahogany desk that he'd be making all the big decisions from now on, that he wouldn't also demand a thousandfold increase in salary. I think he'd be content making those "billi
  • Housewives making extra money for the Holiday, poor folks using Christmas' commercialization as an opportunity to get hired on full time, and possibly even some Department Store Santas who cannot hold a regular job year round.... I don't think we're talking historical on the order of Lech Walesa here.
  • No delays to deliveries? Less than 5% of the current workforce participating in the strike? What a waste of time.
  • lol unions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slashmydots (2189826) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @10:18AM (#45713379)
    I didn't like my old job because the pay and benefits were unfair. Now I got a new job and the pay and benefits are good. That's what I think of unions. Oh and here's the kicker: the former company was doing terrible financially. A union would have made them go bankrupt.

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