Amazon Germany Disrupted by Strike

Logistic center employees of Amazon march through Bad Hersfeld, western Germany, during a strike on May 14, 2013

Photo by UWE ZUCCHI/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon’s operations in Germany are going to be briefly disrupted today by a one-day warning strike by 3,300 employees as Bad Hersfeld and another 2,000 in Leipzig. The issue is that the Ver.di union that represents workers at these distribution centers wants them to get pay and benefits similar to the contracts for “retail and mail-order workers” elsewhere in the country while Amazon wants to pay them like “logistical center” workers. In reality, of course, this is not an issue about the metaphysical nature of working at an Amazon distribution center, the issue is that if you classify the workers as mail-order workers they’d be eligible for overtime bonuses for working nights and weekends.

These kind of warning shot strikes are a common practice in German labor relations, so it really just means the bargaining phase is under way.

But with German unemployment low, I think higher wages for German workers is an underrated part of the path forward for the eurozone. On the one hand, if German workers earn more money they’re likely to buy more Spanish wine and take more vacations in Italy. On the other hand, if German workers earn more money firms looking to expand are more likely to see good business opportunities in Spain and Italy. A lot of the discussion about this kind of rebalancing is conducted in terms of “inflation” which of course makes the inflationary course sound very bad for Germany. But another way of putting it is that after a 10-year span of “wage-discipline” this would be a good time for the German government, the Bundesbank, and the European Central Bank to applaud the idea of German firms giving their workers some nominal raises.