Amazon’s German workers bringing protest to Seattle HQ

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Workers hold up a sign during a previous protest at Amazon Germany. (Ver.di image)

Updated below with Amazon’s statement.

Update No. 2: Here’s the scene from the protest this morning at Amazon’s Seattle HQ

Representatives of Amazon’s warehouse workers in Germany will stage a protest outside the company’s Seattle headquarters this morning, bringing more visibility to what they describe as a fight against unfair working conditions and wage inequality.

The protest is expected to coincide with further wildcat strikes at Amazon facilities in Germany. The actions are being organzed by the German labor union Ver.di. American unions including the AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters and Communications Workers of America are planning to support the German union in the Seattle protest.

The union contends, among other things, that workers in Amazon’s distribution centers should be treated as retail employees, not lower-wage logistics workers.

The action comes at a critical time of year for Amazon, as the company approaches the peak of the holiday season and tries to keep its warehouses running smoothly. A Ver.di spokesperson tells the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. action is “symbolic” and not a strike.

Update, 8 a.m.: Here is Amazon’s statement, in full:

The vast majority of our workers in Germany are not participating in these strike activities.  We feel it is best to work directly with our employees, not through an intermediary.  In Germany, there are established works councils, comprised of Associates elected by their peers, in eight of our fulfillment centers.  We interact with the works councils regularly to create the best working environment possible for our Associates.

We do not track employees. Like most companies, we have performance expectations. Productivity targets are set objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by our workforce.

We actually pay more in total compensation than the “logistics” tariff that governs warehouse workers in Germany. Median pay after one year in our logistics centers is 5 percent higher than the logistics tariff in the respective regions. After two years and the first vesting of their stock associates on average earn 12 percent more compared to the logistics tariff. This includes a bonus and stock grants which over the past five years have added an average of eight percent to base pay annually.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the pub! We’re continuing the conversation on hashtag #verdisymbolicactionseattle2013. See you there!

  • Grant

    Amazon operates with a profit loss. Don’t like your wages? GET A DIFFERENT JOB!

    • Ryan Parrish

      Amazon operates at a loss because of their never ending expansion, not because of lavish employee salaries and benefits. Additionally, the workers in question are warehouse workers, for the most part, whose jobs are physically taxing and pay much less than technical jobs, hence their push to improve what they feel are unfair working conditions for the deal they are currently getting. They may like their job, just not some aspects which they want to improve, and they might not be getting anywhere with the company now, hence the protest and push for organizing.

      It also isn’t as simple as GET A DIFFERENT JOB! There may not be other jobs available for these workers to get. Also, many people have limited vocational potential, but that doesn’t mean they should be unfairly exploited, which is clearly what they think is happening and why they are fighting Amazon for what they think is fair.

      Amazon claims to not want unionized workers because they feel it’s better to deal with employees directly. It may well be better for Amazon, but it often isn’t for the employees which is typically why unions form, for collective bargaining so they have some power to get what they feel is fair that they aren’t getting now. In this situation the company has all of the power, so these workers want to organize to get some power back.

      • Grant

        Reinvestment is not “expansion”; it’s what allows for additional hiring and innovation that keeps the company relevant. Workers cannot be “unfairly exploited” if they accepted the job knowing the pay and terms of employment outlined in their contracts. They are willing participants, despite your efforts to portray them as slaves using Newspeak.

        • Ryan Parrish

          What Amazon is doing IS expansion. They build more and more fulfillment centers, create new product lines, etc. All these new initiatives cost money to ramp up and operate at a loss for a while typically, and since they’ve been doing this since founding they almost never see operating profit. But that’s their business model so far: perpetually expanding. At some point they’ll likely shift to higher margin business and start operating at a profit but that doesn’t look to be happening anytime soon.

          I’m not characterizing them as slaves, you’re intimating that. My point is the workers feel exploited, obviously or there wouldn’t be these protests, and so have grievances they wish to have addressed. They may be employees, but that doesn’t mean implicit agreement with all conditions once employment starts and over all time. How often does a person know all conditions their employment will involve at the time of hiring? Seldom would be the correct answer. So, what’s wrong with employees appealing when they feel they’re getting a bad deal? That’s all this is.

        • Ryan Parrish

          Over 109,000 employees, 35% YOY growth, sounds like massive expansion to me. http://mashable.com/2013/10/24/amazon-100000-employees/