Amazon Gets A Lesson From France In Labor Relations

Amazon appears to have successfully stifled protest at its American warehouses by workers concerned about their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In April, Amazon fired two warehouse workers who participated in protests about Amazon’s response to the pandemic. An Amazon vice-president, Tim Bray, subsequently resigned to protest the firings.

But France is another story altogether.

European law requires Amazon  to deal with labor unions. After hundreds of workers threatened to walk out of French warehouses, Amazon strengthened social distancing measures, provided masks and hand sanitizer, took employee temperatures and awarded hazard pay. But workers still felt unsafe and their unions sued Amazon.

A French court ruled the company still had not adequately protected workers and ordered it to restrict deliveries only to food, hygiene and medical problems until it performed a comprehensive risk assessment. Amazon appealed, unsuccessfully, and was forced to closed its six French warehouses on April 16 to avoid prohibitive fines.

According to the Financial Times,  10,000 French warehouse workers were sent home with full pay in accordance with French labour law.

It was announced last week that Amazon has reached an agreement with French unions and will begin to progressively reopen the French warehouses on Tuesday.

Amazon said there will be no “significant change to the safety measures we had already put in place.”

However, the French Democratic Confederation of Labour said the agreement provides “demanding” health security guarantees for warehouse workers.

According to published reports,  Amazon managers must meet with a workers’ committee and unions once a week to evaluate safety conditions;  hire an independent expert to review virus protocols; reduce shifts by 15 minutes, with pay, to facilitate social distancing at shift changes;  cease pressuring workers to work when they feel unsafe; and extend hazard pay granted to French workers until May 31. 

The Confederation called the negotiation with Amazon “an important step in the adaptation of this company to the culture of our country, to its rules, and to  [trade union] requirements for a sustainable and dignified workplace.”

According to The Guardian, Bray called Amazon’s firing of two user experience engineers, Emily Dunningham and Maren Costa , shortly after they denounced the treatment of warehouse workers, “chickenshit” and they were “designed to create a climate of fear.”

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