Gorilla tactics: Berlin delivery men embark on a billion dollar start-up
BERLIN (AP) – Dozens of workers gathered outside one of Berlin’s most famous startups, the Gorillas grocery delivery company, to protest the dismissal of a colleague hours earlier.
“We want to come back to Santiago! Chanted the young riders last week, threatening to block one of the company’s downtown warehouses with their bikes unless it is reinstated.
The wildcat strike on a balmy June evening was unusual, even by Germany’s strong tradition of labor rights, highlighting growing tensions on the capital’s freewheeling startup scene.
“We came here to show our solidarity, to support our friend,” said Zeynep, a Gorillas rider who declined to give her last name for fear of repercussions from the company. “We want this decision overturned as soon as possible. “
Runners said their colleague was fired without warning after arriving late for his shift. In a statement, the company said its contract was terminated for “serious misconduct” but declined to provide details, citing confidentiality.
Founded only last year, Gorillas has benefited from growing demand for quick grocery deliveries during the pandemic. In March, the company raised around $ 290 million from investors, becoming Germany’s fastest “unicorn” – a startup with a total valuation of at least $ 1 billion.
Gorillas now operates in dozens of cities in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Great Britain, and has already set its sights on New York, where it faces US incumbents such as Gopuff.
But strikes like those in Berlin show that problems are brewing in its domestic market.
The rowdy but peaceful protest on Wednesday evening drew support from employees of competing delivery services, some of whom lowered their colorful mail bags to join the picket line. Eventually, Gorillas agreed to close the depot overnight, eliciting cheers from protesters.
The next day, the runners blocked off another warehouse, saying their complaints go beyond the dismissal of a single colleague.
“In the last six months since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed so many ways the company does things in an unwarranted way,” said runner Huseyin Camalan. “We are here to oppose this. It’s part of a bigger thing.
Camalan said many runners suffer from back pain and other health issues due to the heavy bags they have to carry. Defective bikes, a limited voice in their shifts and a lack of administrative support are also an issue, he said.
When runners send emails asking for help, they rarely get a response, Camalan said, adding “They’re ignoring us.”
Last week, four rivals – Delivery Hero, Bolt, Glovo and Wolt – announced a joint effort to develop a code of conduct in what appeared to be an effort to avoid regulatory crackdown by the European Union.
“We want to establish better governance of working conditions, working practices and social rights for all workers, regardless of their employment status,” said Sacha Michaud, co-founder of the delivery company based in Spain Glovo.
According to experts, many delivery companies in Germany are operating on the edge of legality in their rush to expand before they run out of money.
Gorillas says he doesn’t see himself as part of the “gig economy,” having chosen to employ his riders and warehouse staff. But the hourly wage is low at 11.50 euros (less than $ 14) after tips and the probationary period is six months, the longest allowed by law.
Bikers at the protest complained that the company does not provide them with the phones they need to work, that wages are often low, and that bag weight limits are not respected.
“Working conditions are at their minimum normal in Germany,” said Sebastian Riesner, who heads the Berlin branch of the hospitality workers’ union NGG. “Some contracts are pretty crazy.
“There seems to be a strategy of relying on people who don’t know the rules of this country.”
The Angry Gorillas riders recently regrouped and, with the help of NGG, began the process of electing a works council. Under German law, board members have a say in working conditions and dismissals.
Aligning with established working practices in Germany could make it harder for companies like Gorillas to make a profit.
“I don’t think these companies are making any money right now,” said Werner Reinartz, retail expert at the University of Cologne. The director of the German business monthly Magazin cited internal documents suggesting that Gorillas loses 1.50 euros ($ 1.82) on each order.
At the same time, overseas competitors such as Turkey’s Getir and Britain-based Weezy are planning a launch in Europe’s largest economy, where they will compete for the same limited pool of runners – already shrinking as other parts of the economy are waking up from pandemic containment.
“The strikes show that the current model is difficult to push forward,” Reinartz said. “You need people who want to do this job.
Company chief executive Kagan Sumer said in a message to staff he was “deeply disturbed” by the events of the past few days, but insisting that the biker ‘s dismissal had been a “difficult decision but necessary”.
Sumer did not respond to broader complaints from protesters, but instead announced plans to cycle to every town where the company operates, meet staff, and cycle through towns with them.
The candidate of the Left Party in the municipal elections in September, Klaus Lederer, expressed his support for the Gorillas strikers.
“If these companies want to have a future in Berlin, then they must immediately meet the minimum standards of fair treatment of their employees,” he said.
Riders like Camalan insist they can force a change from below.
“We live in Germany. he said. “We don’t live in a haphazard country that doesn’t have labor laws. “
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