Hundreds of Amazon workers have gone on strike, but the company's not losing any sleep over it
Amazon workers in Germany have gone on strike to protest their wages and working conditions ahead of the holidays. The union behind the strike expects up to 450 workers to join the protest, according to Reuters, which reports that Amazon has 20,000 warehouse workers in Germany. (Half of them are on staff; the other half are seasonal employees helping prepare for Christmas.)
This isn't the first time workers have protested their treatment by a large tech company, nor is it the first time this month Amazon has been singled out for its working conditions. The difference here is that the strikes are meant to affect Amazon's core business, while the other protest involved the workers behind Mechanical Turk, the company's service for cheap laborers.
It isn't unusual for tech companies to treat their non-technical workers differently from the people who make their products. Technical workers are offered high salaries, full-time jobs, and enough perks to make them forget that they've devoted every waking hour to their employer. The people who do all the other stuff companies have to do, like provide security or transportation for those other workers, are often contractors with low wages and abysmal working conditions.
Those conditions have been chronicled by everyone from the Guardian to Alternet, and they reach across industries to affect bus drivers, security guards, and other workers whose job descriptions don't include the words "content," "hacker," or other cringe-worthy tech jargon.
Now some of those workers are starting to fight back. The bus drivers who shuttle Facebook employees from their homes in San Francisco to the company's headquarters in the Valley are trying to unionize, and Apple's security guards are looking to do the same, with the ultimate hope of creating a better working environment for guards at many other technology companies.
But even though Amazon is one of the companies most criticized for its labor practices, from its decision to use temp employees to its refusal to pay its workers for the time they spend waiting to be frisked as part of the company's loss-prevention program, it's unlikely to change any time soon. The hundreds of workers expected to strike today are hardly worth Amazon's attention. And as the company told Reuters, it has 28 distribution centers in Europe and many of the workers it hired for the holiday season continue to work despite the strike. Amazon views its workers as cogs in a machine, and apparently the union behind this strike hasn't stopped enough of those cogs for the company to panic.
[illustration by Hallie Bateman]