Union Protest at Amazon HQ: ‘We’re Humans, Not Robots’

Whether by intention or coincidence, Amazon workers kept their distance this morning as a union protest, in support of German warehouse employees, unfolded on Terry Avenue, the commercial heart of the Amazonian empire in South Lake Union.

At issue is the increasingly hostile standoff taking place between the world’s largest online retail company and the powerful service workers union Verdi, which has nearly 2.3 million members across Germany.

Verdi, seeking to galvanize support for its cause in America, says Amazon is engaged in union-busting tactics, refuses to enter into talks with the union, and refuses to pay the same rate set for other German warehouse workers -- and instead classify these positions as “logistic workers” because the pay is lower.

Amazon had received its share of criticism for working conditions in the United States, but not nearly to the same level as in Europe.

“They (Amazon) want a globalized market. We want a globalized labor market,” David Frieboth, executive secretary of the M.L. King County Labor Council, told a small, but enthusiastic crowd of local union members. “What Amazon is doing is taking its race-to-the-bottom road show to Germany.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of Amazon workers in Germany went on strike today, just as pre-Christmas sales were set to peak, in a dispute over pay and conditions that has raged for months.

German is Amazon’s second-biggest market behind the United States, accounting for $8.7 billion, or 14 percent of the retail giant’s total company revenue in 2012.

Amazon employs 9,000 warehouse workers in Germany, plus 14,000 seasonal workers at nine distribution centers.

At Amazon headquarters, local representatives from the Teamsters, the UCFW, AFL-CIO, SEIU, and CWA, came to show their solidarity with Verdi.

“If workers in German can’t get a fair contract, it won’t happen here,” said Teamster Local 117 organizer Brenda Wiest.

Nancy Becker, a German worker who flew to Seattle to attend the rally, told Seattle Weekly, “People need to be aware of the conditions that exist in these warehouses when the click on their computer to make an order.”

As badge-wearing Amazon staffers sipped coffee at a Starbucks that looked out upon the plaza where the protest was staged, union activists carried signs, “We Support Our Working Families” and were led in a chant, “We Are Humans, Not Robots.”

Several union members stood with a banner containing Amazon’s motto: “Work hard, have fun and make history.”

“But now it’s the employees of Amazon in German who are making history by taking to the streets with their demands,” Frank Bsirke, chairman of Verdi, said in statement.

 
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