Amazon Battles German Unions, Strikes

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Amazon Battles German Unions, Strikes
By Szk7788 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Germany is Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN)’s biggest market in Europe and has over 9,000 full-time employees. However, Amazon doesn’t believe that employees in its distribution centers deserve the standard wages that “retail” workers demand in Germany. Rather, the company considers its employees to be “logistics” workers and points out that the workers are paid at the high end of that distinction.

Amazon workers stage short-term strike

Yesterday, with the backing of German union Verdi, workers walked away from a distribution center and staged what the union is calling a short-term warning strike. It’s Verdi’s hope that it will get Amazon management back to the negotiating table with regards to the workers’ wages.

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This is not the first time that Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has butted heads with Verdi and its workers. Last year in November and December, hundreds of distribution center employees walked off the job to protest their pay.

It’s hard to argue that Amazon doesn’t have a point. Retail employees are generally seen. They may be struggling with the cash register or simply folding your clothes at the Gap but they are seen. It’s a tough sell to many in the industry to call those that sort goods, and load and unload trucks “retail employees.”

“Our employees earn toward the upper end of the pay scale compared to other logistics companies,” Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) said in a statement provided to on Monday. “The entry wage for an Amazon employee in Germany is 9.55 euros an hour, plus bonus, insurance, and pension pay. After one year employees earn more than 10 euros, and after two years, employees get shares in the company.”

The company also pointed out that in each of its distribution centers employees are represented by work councils and employee committees.

In the United States, Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) shut down a call center in 2000 after the Communication Workers of America started a campaign to unionize 400 customer service employees. Amazon, rather than fight, just shut it down. The company has also provided anti-union materials to management to distribute to workers.

Not Wal-Mart

“Amazon seems to be clashing with the German employment culture, in which, of course, unions — while not as powerful as they once were — are significantly more powerful than those in the United States,” says John Logan, associate professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.

They are not alone. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) was unable to crack the German market and sold to Metro just seven years after it arrived.

But Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) is different, and Germany is its largest market outside of the U.S.

“The trade unions have a lot of bargaining power,” says Lowell Turner, director of The Worker Institute at Cornell University. “Germany is a big market for Amazon. This is going to keep happening until Amazon gets its act together.”

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