LABOR: Cowboys on the Rhine

Last week workers walked out in protest at Amazon's two largest distribution centers in Germany. The online retail giant is one of several US companies to butt heads with employees in the country over corporate practices that chafe against German labor laws.

By Janko Tietz - Der Spiegel

Steffen Jacob recently had an odd encounter with management. The 49-year-old has been working for online retailer Amazon since 2008. Jacob is a warehouse stower at the company's logistics center in the eastern German city of Leipzig -- and he represents the employees' interests.

It was these interests that were supposed to be on the agenda of a meeting called by workers to urge Amazon to commit to a wage agreement. But company management didn't bring along any wage experts or accountants from the controlling department. Instead, they showed up with a lawyer who said point-blank that there would be no wage deal. The German employees of the US company refuse to accept that. Last Tuesday, workers walked out in protest at Amazon's two largest distribution centers in Germany: at Leipzig and in the central German town of Bad Hersfeld. It was the first strike in the online retail giant's history.

It's not as if employees are being paid peanuts. During their first year of employment, they earn over nine euros ($11.55) per hour, and employee representative Jacob receives €10.56, plus bonuses and shares after two years with the company. But there's a catch: Amazon can cut these wages at any time. Although the company currently gears its pay scale to Germany's sector-wide wage deal for the logistics industry, it is not bound to maintain wages at that level and has refused to join a collective bargaining agreement for the country's retail sector. In other words, employees have no reliable guarantee for their income. READ MORE

Photo: uncredited from Geekwire