For unions in Germany, the decision of the Erfurt judges could reach far beyond the concrete case, as it’s also a question of the conditions under which employees are allowed to use work resources for industrial action.
Amazon has more than 18,000 workers in Germany, after 2,000 new positions were added this year.
What exactly is the conflict about?
The core of the dispute is a car park at the Amazon site in Pforzheim in the southwest state of Baden-Württemberg which the company has leased. In the past, members of the service union Verdi went on strike on the site, which is part of the company's premises.
They also distributed leaflets there and asked other employees to join in on the strike. “The court must weigh up the employer's domestic authority against the employees' right to strike,” explained a spokesman for the Federal Labour Court. In principle, it is also a matter of the extent to which trade unions may use the employer's operating resources to voice their concerns, he added.
What importance do experts attach to the lawsuit?
“The case has a fundamental significance because it is also about the question of whether an employer can push back and undermine the right to strike,” said labour law expert Olaf Deinert of the University of Göttingen.
According to Gregor Thüsing, a labour lawyer from Bonn, the court will have to sound out the limits of industrial action law – “because industrial action law is not regulated by law, but is only substantiated by court decisions”.
What is the concrete collective dispute between Amazon and Verdi about?
A bitter dispute has been raging between the company and the trade union for years – including several strike actions at larger locations such as Bad Hersfeld or Leipzig.
Verdi wants to ensure that Amazon employees are paid according to the collective bargaining conditions of the retail and mail order trade. Amazon rejects this, and pays its employees as though they were just part of the logistics sector.
What consequences could the ruling have?
Possibly serious for the trade unions. “If the company's right of ownership outweighs the right to strike, any company could rent an area in front of its premises and thus let the right to strike run into the void,” says Jens Schubert of Verdi.
According to German law, the right to strike is also a so-called basic right of communication. It is therefore important for the trade union to “reach all employees, union and non-union members”. In Schubert's view, this would be much more difficult if unions were no longer allowed to strike and distribute leaflets on rented areas in front of the company premises. Amazon did not want to comment before the Erfurt judges' verdict.
Can the strikers not simply move to another area?
In a previous case before the Berlin State Labour Court, the online trader had taken the view that the strike participants could switch to public areas in front of the car park entrance. Verdi, on the other hand, argued that trade unionists could not talk to employees elsewhere because they would drive their cars directly to the car park in front of the company's main entrance.
The workers would drive past the pickets, and strike action protected by fundamental rights would “almost come to nothing”. The regional court took a similar view – and dismissed Amazon's complaint. The decision was preceded by several, sometimes different, rulings by other courts. “We want to prevent contact with the workers from becoming more difficult,” said Schubert.