Amazon workers stage Black Friday protests for wage hikes

BERLIN — Workers at a half dozen Amazon (AMZN) distribution centers in Germany and one in Italy walked off the job Friday, in a protest timed to coincide with "Black Friday" to demand better wages from the American online giant.

In Germany, union spokesman Thomas Voss said some 2,500 workers were on strike at Amazon facilities in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig, Rheinberg, Werne, Graben and Koblenz. In northern Italy, in a warehouse near Piacenza, some workers walked off the job to demand "dignified salaries."

The German union has been leading a push since 2013 for higher pay for some 12,000 workers in Germany, arguing Amazon employees receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs. Amazon says its distribution warehouses in Germany are logistics centers and employees earn relatively high wages for that industry.

The strikes in Germany are expected to end Saturday.

The Italian action, a one-day strike, was hailed by one of the nation's umbrella union leaders, the UIL's Carmelo Barbagallo, as having "enormous symbolic value because it's clear that progress, innovation and modernity can't come at the expense and the interests of workers."

The chief of the CISL umbrella labor syndicate, Annamaria Furlan, called on Amazon to work with unions for "proper industrial relations, employment stability and dignified salaries."

The Italian strike at the facility near Piacenza was called for permanent workers. The unions advised workers who are on short-term, work-on-demand contracts to stay on the job, so they wouldn't risk losing future gigs.

Amazon's head of personnel at the Piacenza-area center, Salvatore Iorio, told Italy's Sky TG24 TV on Friday that despite the strike, the facility was keeping "our commitment to serve our clients."

Asked about union complaints that workers there did repetitive physical tasks to the point of experiencing health problems, Iorio said the company "balances" positions at work areas to avoid any such problems.

Amazon says it has created 2,000 full-time jobs in Italy, where unemployment remains stubbornly high.

The company said in October that it planned to add more than 120,000 workers in the U.S. for the busy holiday shopping season.  Amazon said it would hire to fill positions in its fulfillment centers, sorting facilities and customer service sites. While many of the jobs will temporary, some of those hired will be offered permanent positions.

In the US, Amazon's domestic workforce has grown from 30,000 in 2011 to more than 180,000 by the end of 2016, largely stemming from the company's expansion of its warehouse fulfillment centers.  Many of Amazon's warehouse workers are temporary, which allows the company to pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits, ILSR found. 

"Our review of about 50 job postings for temporary work at Amazon warehouses indicates that Amazon's temp positions pay about $0.50 to $1.00 less per hour than its direct hires make," the report noted.