back to article Amazon workers in Germany celebrate strike anniversary with ... ANOTHER STRIKE

Amazon workers in Germany have gone on strike again after the internet souk failed to resolve an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions. The workers' union Verdi said staff would go on strike in Bad Hersfeld and Graben. This industrial action follows an impromptu walkout by more than 600 workers in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld …

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Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

Perhaps it's time that Amazon closed a warehouse or two.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

"Perhaps it's time that Amazon closed a warehouse or two."

Perhaps it's time Amazon changed the shareholder:employee:taxpayable ratios.

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Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

@ James

Perhaps it's time you figured out what happens in a warehouse in a business like Amazon's..

hint.. Not just storing stuff.

I believe Wally world had the same unhappy ending when they came across the concept of trying to apply American staff relations to European employment laws.

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Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

"I believe Wally world had the same unhappy ending when they came across the concept of trying to apply American staff relations to European employment laws."

Whilst I'm sure there's more than an element of that, I can't help thinking that if they didn't want to do the whole Roman thing, Amazon were berks for then establishing fulfilment centres in Germany, rather than at cross-border locations in Poland and Czech R, (and perhaps Holland to serve the Ruhr/Rhine cities).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

Basing the warehouses outside of Germany for the German branch would be expensive. International postage costs more and it is generally harder (read more expensive) to get next day deliveries across borders. You can send a small box via dhl for ~4€ across germany, same box will cost you 8€+ to be sent a stone's throw away from Kehl to Strasbourg (or over 3000km to northern Norway)

Getting polish workers into Germany and paying them polish wages on the other hand...

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Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

Do you not think someone like Amazon could make an agreement with the carriers to drive their trucks a few km over an EU border, without charging them full international postage rates?

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Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

"Getting polish workers into Germany and paying them polish wages on the other hand..."

would make no difference, considering these jobs are subject to a nationwide CBA. Totally irrelevant what the nationality is of the people working there. And if you argued that Polish people wouldn't mind earning less, think again.

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Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

Strong arming unions doesn't work if your business is wholly dependent on velocity. Amazon runs perpetually in the red and can't absorb losses in revenue if they want to keep growing. If they stop growing the whole mess will collapse in a blink.

The only difference between Amazon and a Ponzi scheme is that the business is actually growing and in the event of 'something terrible' they have the bandwidth and latitude to adjust. But otherwise the mechanics are the same so you can't cut revenue.

Sometimes unions do get the best of a company for a while, sometimes that's reversed. The upshot of all this though is that neither Amazon nor the union are extremists. Because of that a solution will be found and at some future point this will all be repeated. When I was still contracting to hedge funds the extremist unions and the extremist companies were always what kept me up at night. Those fools will sink the whole ship and do far more damage to families than giving the workers better terms or cutting the company some slack on other issues. Extremists are stupid and don't deserve a voice at any table.

But that's not what this is. This is a good old fashioned labor dispute and the primaries from each party probably got drunk together last night. The media likes to make every strike seen like a coal workers strike or something. Most aren't like that at all.

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Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

@John

the dispute is the warehouse staff in the Amazon distribution centres want to be paid as retail workers, because they are working for a "retailer", Amazon say, "you are working as logistics employees in a warehouse, you get the warehouse tarif."

The unions aren't happy with that, because public facing retail workers earn a little more money and they get paid extra money for evening shifts, if the shop stays open beyond normal shop hours. As the warehouse works around the clock, that would be a lot of extra money over and above the logistcs shift bonuses, where they are expected to work shifts anyway.

That said, the conditions, especially for the seasonal workers, is, allegedly, pretty attrocious.

Amazon said it was unaware of the problems, as the seasonal workers are subcontracted and would take steps to rectify them...

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Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

They are opening warehouses in the East now.

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Re: Perhaps it's time Amazon delivered a solution.

What Borders? I assume you've heard of this concept of the European Union, and Common European Currency. The only hangups as such would be local Tax, and that shouldn't be that big of a deal. And Cutomes in the event you accidentally have to wait Six Months for your "Package" to arive from China, and an additional Month on top of that to then actually clear Customs.

But, unless I'm off my arse here. THERE IS NO CUSTOMS (i.e. Import Duties due on inter-europe commence. The bit with overnight shipping wouldn't (or shouldn't be that affected). Given the way such Networks (UPS, FedEx or DHL) are already setup. The only losers here are the Union cronies as is proper and correct!

The best thing Amazon could do is to scrap the Drones and find a way to further automate these Warehouses, thus reducing such dependence on these malcontents.

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German unions

On one hand German unions tend to be reasonable and not make crazy requests.

On the other hand, I suspect they consider Amazon like a "rich US company" that can afford to pay its employees more… Which would almost be the case were it not for the fact that Amazon uses razor-thin margins in order to grow its market share.

I'm curious to see the answer from Amazon, but they seem quite used to playing hardball.

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Re: German unions

All Amazon has to do it is widen its margins a little and pay a decent wage. There's no business requirement to have wages of the serfs as the lowest item on the books and fighting unions just for the hell of it is plain madness.

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Re: German unions

The unions are saying that Amazon is a retailer, therefore the staff should be on retail tarifs, Amazon argues that it has no shops and all the staff work in warehouses, so they should be on warehouse logistics tarifs, which earn less and have smaller night shift bonuses, because warehouses are expected to run 24/7, shops aren't.

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Re: German unions

@Tom, the question is, who is correct?

Is the union correct that the warehouse staff should be paid as retail staff in a shop?

Or is Amazon correct, saying that the staff work in a warehouse and have no contact with customers, therefore they should be paid as warehouse staff?

I admire the unions for trying, but I don't see their argument having sway in court.

If they were fighting over the conditions of the seasonal workers in the fullfilment centres at Christmas, that would be another matter entirely. Allegedly the subcontractor responsible for the seasonal workers did some rather shady double dealing.

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Re: German unions

As per the course with all the Temp Agencies in Germany. You'd be lucky to find out that your clearing a 1/3 of what the contemporaries are clearing for having done the exact same job. Yet your expected to work 2/3s harder then those other guys!

Lifes a bitch, these clowns should just be thankful to even have a job!

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Mystic Meg

My prediction for how this unfolds is that the union don't get the 5% rise they want.

Its not the 1970s anymore, so if you don't like the terms on offer, you're more than welcome to quit and seek employment elsewhere, while someone that does like the terms on offer fills your vacated role.

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Re: Mystic Meg

Mystic Meg clearly hasn't ever met Union Rep Ulrich.

I once worked for an international corp that was "rightsizing" its operations. Our German colleagues got handsome payoffs while everyone else got pretty much squat. Unions in Germany have clout. This will be interesting.

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Re: Mystic Meg

In general, German unions never expect to get all they ask for. They will typically negotiate with the employers for weeks and then settle for between half and two-thirds. Nonetheless, it's their business to first ask for a lot.

Of course, as some others have pointed out, the point in case here is really "retail wages vs warehouse wages". I don't expect Amazon to give way there, and I don't expect they'll have to. Re seeking employment elsewhere: It's not the 90's anymore either. Amazon is in pretty much the same situation: They need someone to run their warehouses after all. So there's a kind of balance of power, or of risk. Which makes it likely the unions will get at least some of what they ask for.

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Happy

Re: Mystic Meg

"Its not the 1970s anymore". So very true. As far as I understand the "middle class" in the USA earn less than their grandparents while the 1% earn more than ever. The rate of inflation in Germany in 2013 was very low at about 1.3% while the ECB 's target is just below 2%.

"But Berenberg economist Christian Schulz said: "We expect inflation in Germany to pass through a low in the spring and then slowly rise again towards the ECB 's target".

In other words a 2% pay rise is not much or nothing. If the inflation was say 2,5% and the pay rise 2% then it would be the American way and nothing to be proud about. You might side with the 1% but I bet you are nowhere close. Or you are just sarcastic.

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Re: Mystic Meg

As far as I understand the "middle class" in the USA earn less than their grandparents while the 1% earn more than ever.

You can pretty much thank globalisation for that. And for globalisation, you can pretty much thank the baby boomers - it was a cynical ploy to prevent their Gen X children earning more than them due to the wage inversion that classically occurs when a massive generation is followed by a tiny one.

The other reason being simply that those who have income from a job will usually lose out to those with income from a job and assets. The bigger the asset base the greater the income derivable from it. I don't see why you view that as somehow wrong or immoral.

In other words a 2% pay rise is not much or nothing. If the inflation was say 2,5% and the pay rise 2% then it would be the American way and nothing to be proud about.

You're trying to connect two seperate things. Inflation is the average increase in the cost of living. Pay, as in salary, is the replacement cost of someone that can do the role to an acceptable standard. Increases in inflation don't logically bring about increases in pay.

You might side with the 1% but I bet you are nowhere close. Or you are just sarcastic.

Well, I've a little way to go yet, but I'll bet I'm closer to it than anyone that ever voted to strike (millionaire union barons like bob crow being the exceptions). I'm also sarcastic.

And I still don't believe that the union will meet their goal. Clearly any court would decide that Amazon workers are indeed logistics workers rather than retail/mall employees, so its unclear why the union want to argue the point - its just cynical manipulation of their members for political ends.

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Happy

Re: Mystic Meg

"You're trying to connect two seperate things. Inflation is the average increase in the cost of living. Pay, as in salary, is the replacement cost of someone that can do the role to an acceptable standard. Increases in inflation don't logically bring about increases in pay."

Not all that separate when it's about your salary and your life. Nobody wants that, not the workers nor the unions not even the state. Nobody wants to increase the number of poor people in the population. Lets again remember this is about Amazon and not about IBM, MS, Google and similar who tend to pay well.

If people working for Amazon and the union they belong to think 2% is not good enough then who is to blame them, let them fight it out. A company unable to pay a decent salary should change or go bust. Americans, I think, look at unions in a different way than most Europeans (not sure about the Brits). I suppose the reason for that is that unions often where taken over by the mob in the USA. Or is that only propaganda. Unions representing the work force sit down to the table with those who represent the companies, well educated intelligent people. Some times the state will take part in the negotiation and eventually they will agree.

And as should be, they will concentrate more on the underpaid workers and their working conditions.

I was a programmer/systems analyst for 35 years. For 25 years my salary rose OK and most of us working in IT had no reason to belong to any union. When the depression stroke most people joined a union and I don't think we lost anything because of that. TopOnePercent, do we actually have anything to argue about.

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The final solution

Most of the Amazon warehouse jobs will be replaced by robots/drones over the next few years. Striking will just make Amazon work faster towards it.

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Re: The final solution

Exactly my thought. I've been seeing a lot of shops installing self-checkout systems in response to increasing wages and other staffing costs.

Its even easier to implement automation in a warehouse since most items are in a regularly shaped box and would be trivial for a robotic arm to grab it. Attach an arm to a rail on the top of the shelves and a conveyor belt along the bottom of the shelves. Add another set of arms and conveyor belts to automate the stocking process. Add unique RF-ID tags or bar-codes to every item and you could potentially automate the packaging process as well.

All you'd need is a couple laborers to handle packing of irregular items, a few technicians to fix an maintain machinery, a manager or two to watch over the people and some security guards; monitoring of the machinery can be done via a bunch of cameras and other sensors watched over by an off-shore team.

The only reason humans are still being used for these tasks is that they are cheaper than robots, but that balance will tip in favor of machines in not too much time.

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Re: The final solution

You have too much faith in automation.

I have first hand experience with modern factory automation. The reality is it is neither. Nor reliable nor adaptable nor cheaper than people.

Every time I hear comparisons of people to factory automation and the supposed superiority thereof, I have to laugh, because I know that those people have NEVER actually worked in a factory, on the floor, right at the production line, year after year.

PARTS of any factory can be successfully automated, but end-to-end is a costly pipe dream for most operations.

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Re: The final solution

@ecofeco

Re: The final solution

I have worked in a factory, for a number of years, in the central U.S. Still have many friends who work in factories nearby. Automation is reliable, adaptable and cheaper. It does take time to implement, but factories in the hinterlands have been at it for over three decades. I expect those in the population centers have been at it for longer. It is of course difficult to do end-to-end, but not impossible as your hyperbole claims. A simple Google search turns up numerous examples.

I'm not familiar with the particular circumstances of the German Amazon workers. I wish them well no matter the fault of either side, if any fault exists.

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Re: The final solution

But they will have to pay for updates and repairs and that will involve educated people and lots of accountants asking for their cut - that's called business when done by companies and blackmail when done by unions for some reason,

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Happy

Re: The final solution

I hope more under payed workers in the US went on strike, but as far as I have understood unions have more or less been killed off in the USA. In most European countries unions are an integrated part of the society and behave accordingly. On the whole I think they are needed and for the good of the society.

Came to think of it, is LIDL in Germany still the company paying the least for its workers.

As for Amazon Walmart and similar, they will never pay more than they are forced to. So apply some force.

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Re: The final solution

It depends, I work in slaughter industry IT and automation does bring a lot of reliability and reduced cost here, through RFID and visual imaging.

There are not robots for slicing open carcasses that are accurate to thousands of a milimeter, meaning they can reliably slice open the carcass without cutting into the stomach (which would be bad, because it isn't "clean", it would infect the meat with bacteria and make it unusable). Only the large slaughter houses can afford such robots, but they are accurate enough to cut open over 600 carcasses an hour (pig).

The same for the cool house after the slaughter line, each hook has an RFID tag and our system, in conjuction with the PLC controller automatically categorise the carcasses into quality lots and store them automatically across the cool house with no human interaction (reduces the chances of microbiological contamination). The system can identify each individual carcass at each position in the cool house and retrieve those needed on demand, even if they find themselves hanging in the middle of a row, automatically reflowing the carcasses at the front back into the cool house and sorting out those required carcasses for further processing or resale.

The same goes for slicing and packing a lot of the work is done fully automatically.

You are correct, some parts are still more economically performed by people or require people - all carcasses have to be inspected by a qualified veterninary officer, before they can be used - although we use a lot of automation to make that job quicker and easier nowadays at the larger slaughter houses.

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Re: The final solution

Where did the NOT come from? :-O

It should read:

There are a robots for slicing open carcasses!

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Oops

Wasn't Amazon going to deliver solutions by drone ?

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Average 5% in Germany? News to me. Ours was 0%, same as the year before. My wife's company had pay cuts, after 3 years of pay freezes.

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Was it one of those 1-hour German-style strikes where they politely hold banners then go back to work refreshed to work a bit harder to catch up?

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