Amazon’s German problem is coming stateside. As workers at three major warehouses in Germany went on strike Monday morning, a group of German workers—with the help of U.S. unions—will also take the protest to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle.
The strike was timed with the busiest sales and shipment dates of the year. Last year, Amazon took its highest number of orders in Germany on December 16, making December 17 its heaviest date for shipments.
The German union Verdi has planned several strikes this year in an attempt to pressure Amazon into raising warehouse employee wages to match the retail and mail order industry.
Earlier this month, German employers and unions in the retail industry agreed to a 5.1% wage increase over the next 24 months. Germany’s new coalition government also just agreed to introduce a minimum wage of €8.50 an hour starting in 2015. Currently, wages are agreed upon by employers and unions, with no nationwide minimum wage standard.
Amazon says it pays workers on the higher end of the logistics spectrum, but does not feel that the higher wages of the retail and mail order sector are justified for low-skilled warehouse workers. (Ouch. Tell me how you really feel, Amazon.)
In the U.S., Amazon warehouse workers make an average of $12 an hour. That adds up to $24,300 a year, which is less than $1000 above the federal poverty line for a family of four. By comparison, Walmart—which has never been considered the beacon of labor justice—pays workers an average of $19, which works up to $40,000 a year.
"The Amazon system is characterised by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts," Verdi board member Stefanie Nutzenberger said in a statement.
Germany is Amazon’s largest market outside of the U.S. and sales there grew 21% in 2012 to $8.7 billion. That adds up to a third of Amazon’s total overseas sales.
The company employs 9,000 warehouse staff in Germany, plus 14,000 seasonal workers.
The Verdi union said 700 people at the warehouse in Bad Hersfeld joined the strike, along with 200 in Leipzig. The union also called for a strike in Graben for the first time.
Amazon had different numbers. It said that only 649 employees didn’t show up for work Monday morning, and holiday deliveries will be largely unaffected.
Two of the largest U.S. unions—the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union—will participate in the protest at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.
Despite the fact that strikes in Germany have been going on for nearly a full year now, Amazon has told reporters that it has no plans to acquiesce.
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