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German Employees Rally Outside Amazon Headquarters: 'We're People, Not Robots'

KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang
Nancy Becker, an Amazon employee from Germany, speaks at a rally at Amazon's corporate headquarters in South Lake Union.

Outside Amazon’s headquarters in South Lake Union on Monday, activists chanted in German, “Wir sind Menchen; nicht Roboter.”

Translation: “We are people, not robots.”  

Two Amazon workers from Germany traveled to Seattle to agitate for higher wages at the retail giant’s order fulfillment centers in Germany.

Meantime, more than 1,000 workers in Germany walked off the job on Monday. Workers there have been staging a series of one-day strikes.   

The German Amazon workers represent Ver.di, one of Germany’s largest trade unions.

“We want to pressure Amazon to treat workers in Germany and the US with respect,” said Marcus Hoffmann-Achenbach, one of the German Amazon employees and Ver.di organizer.

Members of the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the Teamsters, the Communications Workers of America, and the AFL-CIO joined the protest.

“What Amazon is doing is taking this race-to-the-bottom roadshow to the Continent, to Germany, and they are trying it out on our German brothers and sisters,” said Dave Freiboth of the King County Labor Council.

On Monday, 1,115 workers at three German fulfillment centers stayed off the job, according to a statement from Amazon. Most of Amazon’s 23,000 German employees reported for work, and the company did not see any impact on customer shipments, according to the statement.

The workers are pressing for better wages. Amazon pays workers at its German fulfillment centers, or shipping warehouses, slightly above the prevailing wage for workers in the country’s logistics sector, according to the company.

But workers say they should be regarded as retail workers, not logistics workers. Retail workers in Germany earn about 30 percent more, with a starting wage of about $17.25, according to Ver.di.

Ver.di also wants the company to recognize the union for the purpose of collective bargaining.

“All they want to do is doing the best for Amazon, paying the cheapest wages and not what the people want and the people need,” Hoffman-Achenbach said.

This may seem like a fairly local dispute, but US union activists hope it will resonate here as well.

The one-day walk outs in Germany are the first strikes against Amazon, according to union officials.

Amazon workers in the US are not unionized.

Company officials have said in the past that negotiating with unions would hurt efficiency and innovation.

According to the company statement issued today: “We feel it is best to deal directly with our employees, not through an intermediary.”

Year started with KUOW: 2005