They must be things of what has come to be called "turbocapitalism". But not paying workers in due time or providing them with cold clothes or safe bicycles has a reward. At least that's how it seems for the Berlin-based company Gorillas. This start-up, which was founded in May 2020, currently operates in 21 German cities and has expanded to the UK, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, this week celebrated the entry into its capital of the money of, among others, Delivery Hero, the German giant of home delivery.
Nothing more and nothing less than 860 million euros was achieved by the Berlin firm, of which 200 million euros are from Delivery Hero, which now owns 8% of Gorillas. It has mattered little to investors that, for months, Gorillas is in the news in Germany for some questionable labor practices, to say the least. Emmanuel, a thirty-something North American recently fired by the Berlin firm, knows these practices well.
Hence, in a conversation with elDiario.es, Emmanuel spoke of having experienced problems in the company "from the first day of work". He, hired as a deliveryman by Gorillas in January, was already mobilized in February along with other colleagues for not wanting to work in the days of the heavy snow storm that hit Germany at the beginning of the year.
"Despite the storm, the company wanted us to continue distributing. It was the first time that we refused to distribute," says Emmanuel. This man, who has worked in the harsh conditions of the Berlin hospitality industry, does not stop working just like that. "I remember the first day of work with Gorillas very well because it was eight hours in January in the rain carrying an electric bike that did not have a battery. It weighed a lot," he says.
After the stoppage organized in February due to the conflict associated with the snowstorm, "more and more problems began," says Emmanuel. A few days ago, he was one of those who received notification of his dismissal by letter, something that he relates to the stoppages of organized workers for some time now. The official reason for the dismissal is "extraordinary reasons," according to Emmanuel's letter from Gorillas.
Emmanuel has been, as have several hundred employees, calling for job improvements at Gorillas. They have staged walkouts outside the unions. In what is denounced as retaliation for these mobilizations, Gorillas has made layoffs numbering in the hundreds. The Ver.di union, the largest organization of workers in the service sector, counts no fewer than 350 recent redundancies from Gorillas in Germany. It is not surprising that, in the media, Gorillas has been described as "the most tense and controversial" of the firms. start-up from Germany.
The strikes in which Emmanuel and company have started are described by the company and the economic chronicle as "illegal". However, there are already laid off employees who have organized to raise a legal battle.
Labor lawyer Martin Becher represents a score of Emmanuel's colleagues. Becher understands that "illegal" protests, because they do not take place under the auspices of a union or following the rules governing German labor protests, are legal. In his opinion, as explained by the lawyer in the Berlin newspaper Die TageszeitungWorkers like Emmanuel are protected by the European Social Charter, a Community treaty of the Council of Europe aimed at protecting human rights.
According to Becher, Gorillas has fallen into "turbo-capitalist business practices in which, regardless of the motive, whoever does something that does not fit will go away." At Ver.di, where they have harshly criticized Gorillas' behavior against their workers, they have also considered the path of protest taken by the employees "wrong". It has been said from the union that it would have been better for the workers to organize their mobilizations through a works council.
It cannot be said, however, that the employees have not tried. Emmanuel tells how a colleague of his ended up being fired last March after trying to get the delivery men to unionize. "He was fired for that, but the company officially argued misconduct," says Emmanuel. "But two weeks ago a conversation leaked in which the management really explained the reasons for the dismissal," he says.
In the message leaked to the press, coming from an internal communication, the CEO of the Berlin firm, Kagan Sümmer, said the following: "We have an emergency. We must cut an employee. Apparently he is trying to organize a union, and is making appeals on social media ". Sümmer, last summer, when the employees were already mobilized, had promised that there would be no layoffs for those who went on strike.
The Gorillas revelations have led to headlines like the one featured earlier this month on Süddeutsche Zeitung: "He who goes on strike leaves." There are workers who have received their notice of dismissal by phone and shouting. "You are fired!", Had to hear a now ex-Gorillas worker, as she herself told the Die Tageszeitung.
Since then, the social conflict in Gorillas has not stopped growing. People like Emmanuel, organized through the Gorillas Workers' Collective, have been asking in vain for job improvements such as "compensation for late payments," "safer bikes," "winter clothing" to protect delivery men from the cold, "more humane planning" and "improved communication between management and employees."
From the company they defend themselves by ensuring that "at Gorillas we have been the counter-model of the platform economy since we were founded a year ago. From day one, we have hired our riders permanently, with social security, health benefits and paid vacations. We are and will continue to be a cyclist-focused company. That is why constructive dialogue with our employees, including those of the Gorillas Workers Collective group, will continue to be our goal. "
In the latest German plans of the company, called "Project Ace", it tries to optimize the task of the delivery men, making them accumulate up to four deliveries in the same exit, as reported by the Gorillas Workers' Collective. Also this "project", where a computer program organizes the workers' schedules, is accused of not respecting the breaks of at least eleven hours between shifts that the law is supposed to set.
However, the conflict that has cost Emmanuel and several hundred people their jobs has not stopped Gorillas from continuing to grow his business. The business volume in 2020 was 260 million euros, as the economic newspaper recalled this week Handelsblatt. Its growth is counted in values higher than 10%. This explains the demonstrated interest of Delivery Hero and the rest of the investors who have just injected almost 1,000 million euros into the German firm.