Large German union fights to preserve national wage standards

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FOR EIGHT CONSECUTIVE years ver.di, Germany’s second-largest union, called a strike in the run-up to the holidays at Amazon’s fulfillment centers, the sprawling warehouses where packages are prepared for delivery. This year, the tradition continued. About 2,500 Amazon employees in seven centers were released on November 2. The union has warned that the strikes could continue until Christmas.

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Ver.di is calling for an “immediate” pay rise of 3% this year, followed by 1.7% next year, in accordance with a collective labor agreement for the distribution sector. Amazon is making heaps of money in Germany and cannot continue to “refuse wage increases that other companies in the industry are paying,” says Orhan Akman of ver.di. Mr. Akman promises not to give up because the strikes of previous years have yielded results. Union pressure has forced Amazon to raise wages on several occasions, he says.

The broader objective of the strike is the preservation of the Tarifvertrag, a periodic agreement between unions and employers which fixes wage levels for each industry. He is credited with playing a great role in Germany’s harmonious working relations. These “tariff” agreements have eroded over the past two decades, particularly in East Germany. Many companies in the service sector in particular no longer adhere to it.

“Amazon is a great employer without the tariff agreement,” insists Michael Schneider, a spokesperson for the company. In the summer, Amazon increased the wages of all employees to at least € 12 ($ 14) an hour – the minimum wage is € 9.60. After two years, workers earn an average of € 2,750 per month. Half of its 19,000 employees have worked at Amazon for more than five years and appear unwilling to step down.

Amazon is hiring 10,000 more temporary workers for the busy Christmas season in its second largest market. The company says it can fill all orders despite strikes. It’s likely that this year’s industrial action will end like any other every year since 2013 with Amazon making some concessions. But by not respecting the Tarifvertrag, the company further reduces wage agreements both for the retail trade and for Germany as a whole.

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This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Season of Strikes”

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