Amazon poland: over 2000 employees want to strike

Amazon poland: over 2000 employees want to strike

Amazon shipping center in poznan-sady. Picture: ralf ruckus

Restrictive polish labor laws, however, prohibit a strike

Since 2013, employees of the online mail-order company amazon in germany have been striking regularly for better working conditions and higher wages – the world’s first and only official strike actions against the global company at all. Employees of polish amazon shipping centers, which primarily supply the german market, have been trying to open another strike front for over a year now.

In a strike vote at amazon’s three polish shipping centers near poznan and near wrocław that ran from late may to mid-june, more than 2.000 employees voted in favor of strike action. However, since less than fifty percent of the approximately 5.500 employees in poland took part in the vote, polish labor law does not allow strikes to be carried out.

Basic trade union "workers’ initiative"

The strike ballot was not held by the union associated with the.The company is not organized by solidarnośc, which is affiliated to the international trade union confederation uni global union and also represented at amazon in wrocław, but by the grassroots trade union inicjatywa pracownicza (ip). The ip has a total of over 350 members at amazon – over 300 of them at the poznan-sady site and now also a few dozen at the shipping centers in wrocław.

In poznan, dissatisfied amazon employees had already begun to set up a company group of the ip in december 2014 – three months after the opening of the shipping center there. This group does not have any full-time trade union officials or exempt works council members. Discussions and decisions are made exclusively through general meetings and elected shop stewards, who themselves work in the dispatch center.

Wild goose chase in june 2015

The ballot marks the preliminary climax of a labor struggle that had been smoldering for a year. It began with a wildcat go-slow – not officially organized by the ip – at the amazon shipping center in poznan-sady. In the night shift from 24. On the 25. June 2015, dozens of warehouse workers protested against forced overtime.

Since there was another strike at amazon in germany, the management had moved orders from germany to poznan at short notice and increased the shifts there from ten to eleven hours. The polish employees were well aware that they were to act as strike breakers, because the ip had been informing about the strike for days with leaflets and a banner hung on the access road to the dispatch center. The protest was therefore also an express sign of solidarity with the striking colleagues in germany.

During the slowdown strike in poznan-sady the "picker", who collect the ordered items from the shelves, paralyze the shipment of goods by exploiting a bottleneck in the work process. Normally, they pack about a dozen items at a time into a plastic box and place it on a conveyor belt leading to the packaging department. This time they only put one item in each box, so that the conveyor belt became clogged in no time at all, boxes fell down and the belt had to be shut down.

Amazon claims that productivity fell by 34 percent that night. In its response to a lawsuit filed by a warehouse worker who was fired for participating in the slowdown strike, amazon describes with remarkable candor how collective action can be organized in the company:

By placing only one item in a box (…), the work process is deliberately and intentionally slowed down, which is highly likely to have an effect on the further steps in the process. Such obstruction of the work process entails even greater potential losses and damage to the employer when a group of employees deliberately and intentionally places only one item in a box. Such organized behavior affects the overall ability of the logistics center to meet customer demands and leads to a significant reduction in productivity, as it slows down not only the work of individual employees, but also the work in the sorting and packaging area. Blockage of the conveyor on which the boxes are placed can also occur, which in turn could lead to a standstill of the entire fulfillment process.

Amazon

The direct reference to the simultaneous industrial action at amazon in germany was possible because the ip store stewards’ group had already met amazon workers from germany at several self-organized cross-border meetings since january 2015 – a rare example of self-organized networking of workers from several countries. The company activists from the german amazon centers had already informed the colleagues from the ip about the strike in advance.

Horsing and unhorsing

In the days and weeks immediately following the slowdown strike, amazon also resorted to repressive measures. While known ip activists were left alone, workers who seemed less settled and well-connected were seemingly randomly singled out and given time off after negotiations, prered into severance agreements or fired. As the ip writes, in the negotiations, workers were asked to sign declarations stating whether they were involved in the protest and who had asked them to protest:

Some came out of the negotiation with tears in their eyes, others signed that they had deliberately worked slowly and would do so again if the company forced them to work overtime again. We have advised the colleagues not to sign any termination protocols or severance agreements. Several employees were released from work (with continued payment of wages), others signed termination agreements and left voluntarily – most of them want nothing more to do with amazon. In this way, amazon demonstratively punished a few randomly selected employees.

Ip

Almost a year after the slowdown strike, on 31. May 2016, the proceedings for protection against unfair dismissal of one of the workers dismissed at that time began at the labor court in poznan. So far, no verdict has been reached, and the next hearing is not until august – not unusual in the polish labor court system, which is notorious for its slowness. In a second case, in which another worker is taking action against amazon after her employment contract was not renewed following the go-slow, a hearing was held on 14. June the first meeting took place – also without result. The next day of negotiations is not until october.

As a result of the strike amazon raised wages

Immediately after the slowdown strike, the ip officially entered into a wage dispute at the end of june 2015. Among other things, they demanded that amazon increase the basic wage from 13 to 16 zloty per hour (the equivalent of just under four euros), longer breaks and annual work schedules instead of the previous monthly work allocation. Although the ip is mainly organized in poznan, the wage dispute affects all three polish logistics centers together, because amazon has legally combined them into a single operation.

Amazon made no concessions in negotiations with the ip and also broke off the conciliation provided for in polish labor law in december 2015. However, as early as august 2015, the company raised basic wages to 14 zloty per hour both in poznan-sady and in the two shipping centers in wrocław. According to amazon, there was no connection with the slowdown strike. However, ip shop stewards believe that the wage increase is entirely due to prere from employees.

In germany, too, there had been no wage increases for years before the start of the strikes at amazon. Since the strikes began, amazon has claimed that it does not want to sign a collective agreement with ver.Di, but in the meantime it has raised wages several times – which officially has nothing to do with the strikes either.

The ip group continued to press for its demands and, after the inconclusive negotiations and the aborted arbitration, finally decided to hold a strike ballot starting in mid-may 2016, thus establishing the ability to strike. To combat amazon’s characteristic split between permanent and temporary workers, the ip simultaneously scheduled a strike ballot at the temporary employment agencies adecco, manpower and randstad, which supply amazon with temporary workers in poland. The way to this was clear because the wage dispute that began in the fall of 2015 had not led to a result there either, despite negotiations and arbitration.

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