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German Union Calls for Amazon Worker Strike Through Prime Day

As Prime Day gets underway, Amazon has a conundrum on its hands in its second-biggest market.

One of Germany’s biggest trade unions, Verdi, called on workers at numerous Amazon warehouses across the European nation to go on strike on Monday, the first day of the e-tail giant’s 48-hour sale event. The strike will take place through the entirety of the shopping extravaganza, running through Wednesday.

The trade union said it was organizing the strike as part of a long-running battle with the e-commerce giant in Germany over better pay and working conditions. In particular, the workers are asking for a 4.5 percent wage increase, up from a 2.5 percent increase that Amazon recently announced, as well as an extra 45 euro ($53.40) monthly payment.

Amazon’s new entry-level wages approach 12 euros ($14.25) an hour, and will go into effect as of July. The minimum will then rise again to at least 12.50 euros ($14.90) per hour in the fall of 2022, which Verdi called a “cynical” offer.

“Profits are flowing solely into the pockets of the group and its shareholders, while employees continue to be denied collectively agreed pay and good, healthy working conditions,” Verdi representative Orhan Akman said in a statement.

Amazon’s wages exceed Germany’s current minimum wage of 9.50 euros ($11.30) per hour. But workers have regularly gone on strike, including last year’s Prime Day held in October, when they were disgruntled that a coronavirus bonus had been scrapped. They most recently went on strike for four days at the end of March, amid backlash related to Amazon’s adherence to social distancing guidelines in select warehouses.

The Prime Day strike will take place at seven Amazon centers across Germany, including locations in Werne, Leipzig, Rheinberg, Bad Hersfeld, Koblenz and Graben. In total, Amazon has nine fulfillment centers across eight locations, meaning only the Pforzheim and Brieselang centers will be unaffected.

Germany is the second biggest market for Amazon after the U.S., so distribution and possible logistics delays in the region can become a concern amid what it hopes would be record purchases. But given that the strike impacted Prime Day last year in Germany and Amazon’s international sales skyrocketed 57 percent to $37.5 billion in the quarter anyway, the upcoming work stoppage is unlikely to have a significant impact on sales.

Amazon had 23,000 permanent employees in Germany as of March, but the number is set to increase from more than 23,000 to likely over 28,000 by the end of the year, according to Ralf Kleber, the country manager at Amazon.de.

“Amazon uses millions for advertising and makes billions in sales on the campaign days,” Verdi’s Akman said. “The workers in the mail-order centers have to cope with the rush of customers and don’t get a cent more for the additionally intensified workload.”

The tech titan has a history of emerging  largely unscathed from work stoppages, even if they stretch across various logistics centers. In March, Amazon workers in Italy, including third-party delivery service providers, went on a 24-hour strike on March 21, the first such action for its logistics operation in the country. A spokeswoman for Amazon said at the time that fewer than 10 percent of its employees and around 20 percent of third-party workers had joined the strike.

And in a higher-profile tussle, the biggest unionization push in Amazon’s history in the U.S. ultimately fizzled out when workers at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., failed to corral enough votes to organize.

In the U.S., Amazon dealt with public backlash from the termination of Staten Island warehouse manager Christian Smalls, who led a walkout at the location early in the Covid-19 pandemic citing concerns over the company’s lack of safety and sanitation precautions. Amazon said that Smalls himself had been on a 14-day paid leave period, due to being in close contact with an associate who was diagnosed with Covid-19. The company is now embroiled in litigation with New York state over how it handled the outbreaks and Smalls’ employment.

In response to many of the labor concerns, which go beyond employee strikes and wage criticisms into allegations of wrongful terminations and even discrimination and sexual harrassment, outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos said in his final shareholder letter that he will prioritize the goal of makeing Amazon “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work” as he shifts into the executive chair role.

Germany’s top antitrust watchdog keeps eye on Amazon

The labor issues aren’t the only concerns Amazon continues to fight across the larger European market. The tech titan is currently battling the European Union in an antitrust lawsuit under allegations that it uses third-party seller data to inform its strategic business decisions. Similar to probes in the E.U. and the U.S., Germany’s government opened an antitrust investigation of its own into Amazon in May.

Andreas Mundt, president of Germany’s Bundeskartellamt (Federal Cartel Office), said his agency was using revised German law on large internet companies—tightened in January—to examine whether Amazon had “paramount significance for competition across markets.”

The 10th amendment of Germany’s Act against Restraints of Competition (GWB) allows regulators to scrutinize Amazon and other “large digital companies,” reflecting the E.U.’s policy to restrain and tax online giants.

The U.K. is reportedly planning a formal competition investigation into Amazon as well, according to a recent Financial Times report. Amazon is also facing a potential $425 million fine from Luxembourg’s data-protection commission, CNPD, linked to the e-commerce giant’s collection and use of data.

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