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in France, Amazon continues its showdown with unions and justice

Amazon’s site in Lauwin-Planque in the North. DENIS CHARLET / AFP

It is a symbolic moment in the conflict between the multinational Amazon and the French unions, which has become a national affair and followed closely at the American headquarters in Seattle (Washington State): Friday April 24, the Versailles Court of Appeal confirmed, while softening it a bit, the decision that had ordered Amazon ten days earlier to better protect its employees from the coronavirus and to restrict by then its activities to products deemed essential.

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It was after this setback that Jeff Bezos' company decided to close its French warehouses. On Friday, the judges again intimated to the business of “Proceed, with the participation of staff representatives, to the assessment of the occupational risks inherent in the Covid-19 epidemic”.

Amazon’s reaction came quickly: the American group decided not to change anything and not to reopen its warehouses. In a very vindictive press release, he did not hesitate to sharply criticize the French court's decision. “It reinforces the idea that the main issue is not so much security, as the will of certain trade union organizations to take advantage of a complex consultation process with social and economic committees”, writes Jeff Bezos' business. “We do not think that this decision is in the best interest of the French, our collaborators and the thousands of VSEs and French SMEs who rely on Amazon to develop their activities”, adds management.

Amazon points out that “Its warehouses are safe”. And that the social and economic committees (ESC) have been “Involved” in the implementation of anti-coronavirus measures. Unions denounce an approach “Unilateral”, conducted only at each warehouse level. The court agreed with them by requesting a consultation of the central CSE.

American culture resistant to unionism

“Amazon, rather than negotiating, chooses to continue its showdown. Management is playing against public opinion against the force of law. It’s no longer an economic problem, it’s a psychological problem. “I am the employer, I decide”. We are in dogma “, deplores Laurent Degousée of the Sud-Commerce federation, author of the complaint at first instance and joined on appeal by the CFDT, the CGT and FO. Jeff Bezos’ company is known for its American culture that is resistant to unionism.

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However, court ruling allows Amazon to drain “50% of its catalog”, underlines the trade unionist. The court of appeal gives no figures but it went in the direction of the American giant on certain points: it widened and clarified the categories of products authorized for sale, by referring to the catalog of the platform: “High-tech”, “IT”, “office”, “everything for animals”, “health and body care”, “man”, “nutrition”, “drugstore”, “grocery”, “drinks” and ” interview “. This wide range exceeds that fixed by the judicial court of Nanterre on April 14, restricted to only products “Food”, “medical” and “Hygiene”.

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