“You can’t buy us”

“You can”t buy the leaders of our movement”. With these words, the Catholic Workers” Movement in the Diocese of Augsburg defends itself against being taken over by the Internet retailer Amazon.

Interviewer: That actually sounds good, the “Amazon Smile” program. There Amazon customers can choose a social institution, to which Amazon then transfers half a percent of the purchasemme. But the Catholic Workers” Movement (KAB) says no, we don”t want to be a part of that. Why?

Deacon Erwin Helmer (Amazon company chaplain and KAB diocesan president in Augsburg): It sounds good, but it”s bad, because we are in constant contact with Amazon employees, here in Augsburg and also with some locations nationwide. The KAB is active there and has repeatedly pointed out that there are abuses that are actually not common in Germany. For example, that it is not welcome to talk to unions about collective agreements. We don”t like that at all, because we think that collective agreements are peace agreements, contracts of order. The Basic Law also stipulates that employees should assemble and negotiate with employers. We keep pointing out this overall climate at Amazon, where superiors sometimes treat people at the workplace very arbitrarily. And that”s why we have a problem with the action.

Interviewer: So accuse Amazon of buying your silence, your good will?

Helmer: Exactly, when we accept money, one always has the impression that they will be a bit more friendly towards the whole thing. But we want to be independent, and we want to tell the truth. We are close to the employees. In Augsburg, for example, there have already been almost 70 days of strikes, warning strikes for collective agreements. We have always been represented there in order to be close to the people. The employees contact us, we are in discussion with them. We don’t want to be corrupted, we want to be free in what we say. That is why we have asked to come down from this list.
Interviewer: How should I imagine the working conditions of an Amazon employee in Augsburg – a worker in the logistics center who stands on the assembly line??

Helmer: What we don’t like at all is this surveillance. There are superior "leads" and then "area managers" who have no training as managers and who then often deal with people very unpleasantly. We hear about very arbitrary means of prere, people are really put under prere. You look at their performance very closely. And if someone stands there for a few minutes longer, they are immediately taken to task. That increases the prere tremendously. Many can’t stand it either. And that’s why Amazon has a very high level of sick leave. That can’t be so good and certainly not for our corporate structure in Germany. We actually want a social market economy, we want people to be treated as human beings, as whole human beings who can also have a performance gap, but whose dignity is not damaged. And unfortunately we hear very horrible things about Amazon from the employees.

Interviewer: You have communicated your concerns to the corporation in a letter. You have also written why you do not want to take part in this "Amazon Smile" campaign. Have you already received a response from Amazon?
Helmer: The letter was sent only yesterday. We had already sent a letter in a similar matter. At least the head of Germany, Mr. Kleber, answered with a friendly letter. However, he also did not respond to the direct questions. I don’t suspect that Amazon will react immediately. But it’s actually about the customer and the people saying that we want decent work, better working conditions, we also want collective agreements. That is common with us, that is what the social market economy stands for and I hope that we can set an example there.
Interviewer: What has to happen so that the employees at Amazon are better off?
Helmer: It would be good if the works councils, which are also present, were left to work in peace. There is a lot of division here. There are also very few company agreements between the works council – i.e. the employees – and the company management. Very little compared to many other companies. There are agreements about working hours, about dealing with each other, about effective health measures, all of which is at a minimum at Amazon. These are things that do not correspond to our culture. And that’s where Amazon simply has to learn.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

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