Verdi strikes at Amazon remain controversial even after ten years

This Sunday, Verdi trade unionists and Amazon employees want to meet in the Hersfeld town hall for what at first glance seems a strange celebration. Ten years of strikes at Amazon without a countable result – what is there to celebrate? The mail order and online giant from the USA, which has been present in Germany since 1999, has so far withstood every union attack, denied any impact on its business activities and achieved fabulous growth – most recently fueled by the online boom during the Corona pandemic.

From the outset, the trade union Verdi, which is responsible for trade, demanded that the US company recognize the applicable collective bargaining agreements for retail and mail order. The first strikes involving around 1,700 participants took place on May 14, 2013 in the logistics centers in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld, and dozens of strikes have followed since then – often at Christmas or other high-sales dates. Under the motto “Make Amazon Pay”, trade unions in France and the USA also took part in strikes for the first time in November 2022.

Verdi coordinator Monika Di Silvestre is convinced that the long-term industrial action is having an effect: “Amazon cares about our actions because they always try to intervene. And it also has economic effects if you have to move services to Poland, for example. In addition, the company specifically hires temporary workers for periods when there is a risk of strikes, for example around Black Friday. That also costs money.”

Amazon doesn’t back down

The company, on the other hand, sees no reason to give in to the strikers. In any case, one counts oneself more in the logistics sector and not in retail. Amazon pays its now more than 36,000 employees in Germany at least 13 euros an hour from day one with automatic increases after one and two years, writes country manager Rocco Bräuniger in his blog. In addition, there is a “large package of extras”, which since May has also included the full Germany ticket worth 49 euros. However, wage negotiations are not planned: “We check our wages every year to ensure that we make our employees an attractive offer.”

Amazon regional director Norbert Brandau says: “Amazon shows every day that it is possible to be a good employer even without a collective agreement. We work on this every day together with works council members and employees. We offer good pay, social benefits and development opportunities – all in an attractive and safe working environment.”

The company regularly denies the impact of the strike calls on customers. The union is calling for a strike at half of the 20 logistics centers in Germany. Measured against the total workforce, however, the percentage of strike participation has halved over the years. Amazon’s distribution centers and sorting centers have never been on strike.

The union, on the other hand, still believes it is on the right track: “Last November we were able to call ten locations to strike at the same time, and we are working on increasing this number. In each company, between 300 and 1,000 employees go on strike,” says Di Silvestre. New colleagues step in with every strike because they see the need for a collective agreement. “Otherwise it’s just collective begging.”

Participating requires a lot of courage – especially when you consider the different backgrounds of the people, says the trade unionist. In some countries of origin, strikers are thrown into prison, there are language barriers or fear for the job if you have been unemployed for a long time. “But that’s no reason to offer your work at any price.” Giving up doesn’t count, says Di Silvestre. “I can’t say how long the fight will last. We’ll do it as long as it takes.” (dpa)