On Monday and Tuesday of this week, a work stoppage involving fulfillment center workers at Amazon.com’s German based facilities took place. This was yet another walkout amid a series of periodic work disruptions that date back to 2013. As occurred with other such incidents, there were no reported disruptions in Amazon’s fulfillment activities within the German facilities.

Supply Chain Matters has previously highlighted the various incidents of labor disruptions at Amazon’s German based fulfillment centers. Initial labor stoppages occurred over four consecutive weeks in June of 2013, and again at the peak of the holiday fulfillment season. Another protest walk-off occurred in the spring of this year.

German labor union Verdi has been targeting Amazon and has organized these periodic work stoppages.  The primary issue involves an ongoing dispute as to whether temporary or full-time workers at Amazon’s German facilities should be classified as retail and catalog workers, which garners a higher pay scale in Germany. While Verdi claimed upwards of 2000 workers across five different sites participated in this week’s work stoppage, Amazon indicates the number was closer to 1300. However, the numbers seem to grow with each incident.

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal published an in-depth front-page article in its United States edition, In Germany, Amazon Keeps Unions at Bay (paid subscription) which provides in-depth perspectives to the issues at-hand. The article is an interesting read.

The WSJ declares that Amazon has shunned Germany’s consensus-driven labor model and largely dictates contract terms at its 9 German distribution centers.  It quotes Amazon’s general manager at the Bad Hersfeld logistics hub as indicating that Verdi and Amazon do not go together. However, later in the article, the authors report that Amazon pays a variable monthly compensation, a bonus based on performance, issuance of restricted stock units, and paid time-off for pregnant workers. A Christmas holiday bonus was added in 2013.

Verdi’s ongoing organizing efforts continue to trigger what is described as a discernable rift among Amazon’s German workforce.  Some workers are thankful to be working for Amazon, while others want their employer to respect Germany’s labor voice practices where workers are formally represented by an organized labor representative in executive forums. The WSJ makes further note that Amazon targeted its German fulfillment center sites within high unemployment areas where workers would be more concerned with jobs rather than labor unions. That apparently adds to the ongoing tensions. What is occurring in within Amazon’s fulfillment facilities in Germany has similar parallels to attempted labor organizing efforts involving Volkswagen’s production facility in Tennessee.

This author is currently half-way through the book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. It is a fascinating read and provides many insights into the corporate culture and internal drive of Amazon, particularly its successes in challenging conventional norms related to shopping, commerce, fulfillment and business.  Thus, there should be little surprise in Amazon’s current direction in Germany and perhaps other countries. They are, after all, the current big gorilla of Omni-commerce.

After the highly successful and financially rewarding IPO of Alibaba last week, the online fulfillment provider that most believe will at some time surpass the shipment volumes of Amazon and others, one wonders if they will take a similar path when establishing a presence in Europe.

European labor tensions involving online shopping may well continue into the foreseeable future

Bob Ferrari