Economy & Politics

Workers dispute over works council at delivery service start-up Gorillas

Gorillas’ bicycle courier on dutyIMAGO / Arnulf Hettrich

When employees of a Berlin tech start-up even use the word works council, they are sure to get a certain amount of media attention. Last year, Neobank N26 made headlines across Germany when the founders told their employees that a works council would be “against almost all values ​​we believe in”.

The public interest was correspondingly great when the delivery service Gorillas – founded in March 2020 – even temporarily discontinued its service in the app on Thursday to give its employees the opportunity to appoint an electoral board for the election of a works council.

In the afternoon, several hundred participants gathered in the forecourt of the Estrel Hotel in Berlin. English was spoken, partly Spanish. So-called pickers came, i.e. those who sort the orders together in the warehouse, as well as the riders, i.e. the drivers themselves – but also employees from the start-up’s offices.

Strict checks were carried out at the door to the event and dozens of employees were turned away. Personal-Financial.com was able to see that several names were underlined in gray on a list – apparently executives who, because they have personal responsibility themselves, are not permitted to such events under the Works Constitution Act. The organizers seemed concerned that parts of the management might torpedo the election. To prevent this, some employees are said to have been blacklisted.

Were employees wrongly turned away?

According to information from Personal-Financial.com, at least one candidate for the electoral board was among the rejected employees. In another case, employees were escorted from the premises by a security service. “I came here to find out about my rights and was turned away at the entrance. That’s really disappointing, ”said an employee who works as a supervisor in a warehouse. He drove here for an extra 45 minutes. Employees from office management and the data team were also turned away.

The corona rules were observed by gorillas at the works council event

“We can confirm that about 50 people were not approved by the organizers for the works council election,” said a company spokesman to Personal-Financial.com. These were employees without personnel responsibility who “must therefore be allowed to vote”.

According to information from Personal-Financial.com, there are therefore specific considerations in the company to contest the choice. At the same time, however, the spokesman emphasizes: “Gorillas fully supports the establishment of the works council – this is also in our manifesto.” The company is working with the organizers to achieve the highest possible employee participation.

The company is in a phase of growth, twelve months after it was founded, it was valued at $ 1 billion in March. According to information from Personal-Financial.com, the start-up is already in the process of raising capital – this time at a much higher valuation.

At the same time, there is also increasing criticism of the riders’ working conditions. The organizers of the works council efforts, a group of three people from the paddock, have been denouncing the working conditions at gorillas for months. In an open letter to their colleagues, they wrote: “We are not racehorses, we are drivers.”

The industry has long been concerned with the question of what co-determination can look like in fast-growing digital companies. The game developer Goodgame tried years ago to prevent employee representation. For the former tech hope Wirecard, the word works council was considered a “career killer”, as former employees report.

The beverage delivery service in a bottle had tried to partially challenge a works council election in court. And at the Lieferando restaurant delivery service in Cologne, a manager is said to have threatened employees in connection with a works council election – which he denies.

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