For Black Friday, Strikers Across Europe Demand Amazon Improve Working Conditions

Photo: Thomas Samson (Getty)

Amazon workers and union members in Spain, Germany, and the U.K. went on strike this Black Friday—one of the busiest shopping days of the year for the retail giant—to protest for better pay and improved conditions at the company’s warehouses, which have previously been described by U.K. and U.S. officials as some of the most dangerous places to work in their respective countries.

An Amazon spokesperson disputed reports of European protests in an email to Gizmodo, describing its operations in the region Friday as “business as usual” and adding that no delivery schedules would be interrupted.

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“Self-interested critics have a vested interest in spreading misinformation about Amazon, but the facts tell a different story,” the spokesperson wrote.

Trade union GMB organized hundreds of protestors across the U.K in demonstrations planned for today and Cyber Monday, a union spokesperson told Business Insider. Several union officials and local politicians tweeted about photos of union members and Amazon employees sportings signs that read “We are not robots.” Strikers in Spain staged a similar effort outside an Amazon pop-up location in Madrid.

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In a statement to multiple outlets, GMB’s national officer, Mick Rix, called conditions at Amazon’s U.K. fulfillment centers as “appalling.”

“Workers are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances. Amazon has spent a fortune on fluffy adverts saying what a great place it is to work. Why not spend the money making their warehouses less dangerous places to work?”

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Last year, Amazon’s Rugeley, England center has been dubbed “one of the most dangerous places to work in Britain” by GMB union officials, according to a BBC report that cited multiple incidents of electrical shock and trauma between 2015 and 2017. At least one pregnant employee was purportedly required to stand for upwards of 10 hours per day or risk reassignment. Another report found that U.K. Amazon warehouse employees faced such brutal work paces that they allegedly peed in bottles to keep from falling behind.

In the past three years alone, ambulances were called out to amazon’s U.K. locations roughly 600 times, according to a 2018 Guardian investigation. An Amazon spokesperson at the time argued this data failed to suggest unsafe working conditions and insisted that—according to the U.K.’s Health and Safety Executive’s method of injury reporting—the company actually experienced 43 percent fewer employee injuries on average compared to similar companies in the region.

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In Germany, workers coordinated by the trade union Ver.di plan to continue striking through the weekend and possibly into Tuesday. Per Business Insider’s report, more than 2,200 strikers joined the protest, with employees walking out from distribution centers in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld, Koblenz, Rheinberg, Werne, and Graben, affecting just shy of half the country’s total warehouses. While Amazon recently raised minimum wage rates in the U.K. and America, unions in Germany have been trying to negotiate a collective wage agreement with Amazon for the better part of the last decade. The retail giant has repeatedly rebuffed their efforts.

“[Amazon] keeps claiming what a great, transparent employer you are. But basic rights are withheld from employees and everyday life at Amazon consists of rush and extreme pressure,” a representative for Ver.di, Orhan Arkman, told Forbes.

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In its statement to Gizmodo, Amazon flatly refuted any claims from striking workers and union members that its treatment of employees is anything less than creditable.

“The truth is that Amazon already offers industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits, as well as a safe, modern working environment. These groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favor, when in fact we already offer the things they claim to be fighting for,” a spokesperson said.

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However, company documents recently leaked to Gizmodo detail similarly harsh conditions in one of Amazon’s stateside distribution centers too. Injury rates at the company’s Staten Island fulfillment center are over three times the industry’s average according to internal records. Earlier this year, Amazon employees at Amazon’s Shakopee, Minnesota location planned a strike protesting related grievances for Prime Day, the company’s profitable and entirely arbitrary holiday. And in 2018, landed Amazon’s warehouses on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s “dirty dozen” list of the most dangerous places to work in America.

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About the author

Alyse Stanley

Gizmodo weekend editor. Freelance video game reporter. Full-time disaster bi.