Amazon’s Showdown in France Tests Its Ability to Sidestep Labor

PARIS – Workers at Amazon’s six giant French warehouses won a few concessions from the company in late March: after threatening to quit by hundreds of employees until the company protected them better than coronaviruses, the internet giant has socialized Strengthened distortion measures, provided masks and hand sanitizers and took employee temperature.

But it was not enough for workers like Jean-François Bayrot, who felt a few weeks later that their colleagues were still close to comfort, putting themselves at risk to fulfill orders for items as trivial as nail polish. Huh.

“People kept coming to work, feeling anxious to be worried about a mortal danger,” said 50-year-old Mr. Berot, who works in a warehouse in the south of Paris.

Unlike the United States, where Amazon has successfully defeated the union’s efforts over the years, Mr. Berot can do something about it. He had a union behind him.

Mr. Berot’s union successfully sued Amazon last month, which has become the retailer’s foremost labor performance since the outbreak of coronovirus. A French court ordered Amazon to stop distributing “non-profit” items as part of measures to protect workers’ health. The company closed its French warehouses and paid 10,000 employees by at least Monday. On Wednesday, Amazon said it would include an independent expert in the review of the virus protocol, a concession to the unions.

This case, now headed by the French Supreme Court, tests Amazon’s ability to meet the demands of workers who have caused an epidemic for Amazon’s business. It is also influenced by the fact that Seattle-based Amazon has fought to keep unions out of the company, most notably in the United States, its largest market.

Unions in the United States have made some deficiencies after years of campaigns. But in Europe, national labor laws require companies to deal with them, even if employees are not members. With more than 150,000 deaths in Europe from coronaviruses, groups are taking advantage of the crisis to take effect and suppress Amazon over workers’ rights.

“Collision is the only way to push Amazon to action,” Bérot said. “We are working in situations that pose a risk to our safety. The voice of the workers must be heard. ”

Amazon defended its response to the virus, saying it had made more than 150 changes to its warehouses, including masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizers, timely raises, and providing higher salaries. It expects more than $ 4 billion of Kovid-related expenses in the current quarter.

Amazon spokesman Stuart Jackson said, “We respect the right to express ourselves, but have objected to the irresponsible antics of some labor groups that spread misinformation during this crisis and false claims about Amazon Done. ” “Some people’s actions do not reflect the views of many – and do not always reflect reality.”

Amazon has not revealed how many warehouse workers have contracted the Kovid-19 in Europe, but there have been cases in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.

The disease has faced long-standing challenges that Amazon has faced in the region. In Italy, it has opposed workers’ demands for the company in 2017 Initially refused To participate in a government-run dialogue with unions on conditions in a warehouse near Piacenza. In March, as soon as the virus spread, Italian employees went on an 11-day strike in front of the company Additional safety policies, including more time for employees to wash their hands during shifts And the creation of a Health and Safety Committee.

In Germany, where workers demanded drastic social disturbances in warehouses, Amazon is embroiled in a seven-year battle against one of the country’s largest unions, Ver.di, which has Fought to chat A collective bargaining agreement. Spanish unions, also called for strong antivirus measures, Have gone on strike During the busy holiday period in recent years to demand higher wages.

The company’s activity has not stopped with Europe dominating the online retail market.
In France, where Chief Executive Officer, Jeff Bezos, inaugurated the company’s fledgling website in 2000, with a stunning Parisian bash featuring 11 party boats symbolically in front of the National Library, Amazon is now the leading online seller.

company Reported $ 75.5 billion in global sales in the latest quarter, up 26 percent from a year earlier. In 2019, revenue from its online store was around 32 billion euros in Europe, where its continent’s websites correspond to several other countries, including Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. It also operates warehouses in low-cost Eastern European countries.

Amazon is a force the European Commission is investigating to see if it has broken antitrust laws.

The company’s continued financial success in Europe suggests it can work closely with unions, said UNI Global Union Secretary-General Christie Hoffman, a Swiss-based federation of unions from 150 countries that launched an international labor campaign against Amazon. Helps in conducting.

She pointed to Spain, where despite a strained relationship, Amazon worked with local union leaders on new warehouse security measures to limit the spread of the virus. In Italy, unions overcame resistance Amazon in 2018 More consistent schedules, including increased pay for night work, and some weekends.

“It’s an important lesson,” Ms. Hoffman said. “They are relatively easy to run.”
As its legal battle continues in France, Amazon is tapping its warehouses in Germany, Italy and Poland to fill orders by French consumers, to minimize the fallout from the dispute.

Amazon closed French warehouses after the court ruled on April 15, as it did not adequately consult the Employee Works Council, which includes union members on the coronovirus safety protocol. Unions also complained that warehouse workers faced unnecessary health risks in packing items such as beauty products and DVDs, while the government asked citizens to shout for safety.

The court limited Amazon’s sales to “essential” items and threatened stiff penalties for noncompliance, forcing Amazon to close warehouses to avoid financial risk.

Amgen said that when a French appeals court ruled, the union lawsuit was “not about safety, but with some unions taking advantage of the process of formal procedural consultation with councils for their own agendas.”

The company is appealing those court decisions to the Supreme Court of France.
Episodes in Europe show that Amazon will work with unions when required by law, Virginia Dolgast, an associate professor at Cornell University, who studies international labor. He said, “They cooperate wherever they want.”

In the United States, Amazon has pushed back against the organizers. In March, the company fired a worker at its Staten Island facility, Christian Small, which organized a protest demanding strong security measures. Amazon has said that he was fired for violating a quarantine order to join the protests.

Two weeks later, Amazon fired two other employees who had organized an event for warehouse employees to talk to technical staff about their terms.

In France, temporary warehouse closures are feared by job shortages among unions and some employees. About 15,000 people signed a petition last month urging the sites to reopen.

Priscilla Soares, 32, a French warehouse worker who started the campaign, said Amazon initially addressed security issues after doing little, but unions did not mind the reform.

He said unions were “bullied on Facebook” by unhappy employees who want to return to work. “I don’t think unions really represent our interests,” she said. “People say it’s their fault.”

Alessandro Delphanti, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the economic downturn caused by the epidemic could strengthen Amazon’s hand by increasing the pool of people desperate for work.

“This crisis is opening up a mass of workers they can tap into,” he said.
For Mr. Berot, the fight with Amazon reminds him why he became a member of a union. He said that he was not interested until he sustained repetitive-strain injuries to his shoulders and shoulders for a few years in his job.

After returning from disability leave, Mr. Berot said managers pressured him to increase productivity. When workers with similar injuries whose productivity fell were threatened with firing, they said they decided to join Sud-Solidair, France’s largest industrial labor organization, to advocate for better work conditions Can be done.

When the coronovirus hit, Mr. Berot said that the unions’ previous experience said that they should demand a wider response. He disputed an Amazon statement that the company had worked closely with the workers’ committee on coronovirus security plans, saying that when unions demanded strict sanitary protocols, Amazon listened but did not always include them.

“We say, there’s a problem. They say, it’s not as bad,” he said. “What is this dialogue”

In its statement, Amazon said that it has an “open-door policy” with workers, which we are encouraged to do better, and always do. ”

However, Mr Berot is delighted that Amazon will now bring in an independent expert to assess the security protocol, adding that he hopes it hardly mounts the final fighting unions.

“Amazon says it’s security first,” he said. “But his priority is business.”

Liz Alderman from Paris and Adam Satriano from London reported. Eva Mbengue contributed reporting from Paris. Rachel Chandler contributed reporting from Spain.

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