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Gorilla Strategy: Berlin Delivery Riders Take on a $1B Startup


BERLIN – Dozens of activists gathered outside grocery delivery company Gorillas, one of Berlin’s best-known startups, to protest hours before a colleague was fired.

“We want Santiago back!” Young riders raised slogans last week, threatening to lock up a warehouse in the company’s inner city with their bikes unless he was reinstated.

“We came here to show our solidarity, to support our friend,” said Zeynep, a gorilla rider who declined to give his last name for fear of facing repercussions from the company. “We want this decision to be reversed as soon as possible.”

The riders said their colleague was fired without warning after being late for his shift. In a statement, the company said their contract had been terminated for “serious misconduct,” but declined to provide details, citing confidentiality.

Established only last year, Gorilla has benefited from the growing demand for quick grocery delivery during the pandemic. In March, the company raised nearly $290 million from investors, becoming Germany’s fastest-growing ‘unicorn’ – a startup with a total valuation of $1 billion or more.

Gorilla now operates in dozens of cities in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK, and has already set its sights on New York, where it faces American incumbents like Gopuff.

But strikes like those in Berlin suggest trouble is brewing in its domestic market.

The rowdy but peaceful protest that took place late Wednesday was supported by employees of rival delivery services, some of whom dropped their colored courier bags to join the sit-in. The guerrillas eventually agreed to close the depot for the night, drawing cheer from the protesters.

The next day, the riders blocked another warehouse, making it clear that their hold was beyond the firing of an ally.

“In the past six months that I’ve been here, I’ve noticed a number of ways the company is acting inappropriately,” said rider Hussein Camlan. “We’re here to stand against it. It’s part of a bigger thing.”

Camlan said many riders are suffering from back pain and other health problems due to carrying heavy bags. Faulty bikes, limited numbers in their shifts and lack of administrative support are also a problem, he said.

When riders send emails asking for help, they rarely get a reply, Cameln said, adding, “They ignore us.”

Last week four rivals – Delivery Hero, Bolt, Glovo and Volt – announced a joint effort to develop a code of conduct in what appears to be an attempt to block a regulatory action by the European Union.

“We want to establish a better regime of working conditions, labor practices and social rights for all workers, regardless of their employment status,” said Sacha Michaud, co-founder of Spain-based delivery company Glovo.

According to experts, many delivery firms in Germany operate on the edge of legitimacy to extend before they run out of cash.

Gorilla says he does not consider himself part of the ‘gig economy’, as he has chosen to hire his riders and warehouse staff. But the hourly pay is less than 11.50 euros (less than $14) after the tips and the probation period is six months – the longest period allowed by law.

Protesters complained that the company did not give them the phones they needed for work, the pay was often low and the weight limit on the bags was not respected.

“Working conditions in Germany are at the low end of normal,” said Sebastian Riesner, head of the Berlin chapter of the hospitality workers’ union NGG. “Some contracts are very bizarre.

“It looks like this country has a strategy to trust people who don’t know the rules.”

Angry Gorilla Riders recently banded together and began the process of electing the Works Council with the help of NGG. Under German law, council members get an opinion on working conditions and firing.

Falling in line with Germany’s established labor practices can make it harder for businesses like gorillas to make a profit.

“I don’t think these companies are making any money at the moment,” said Werner Reinertz, a retail expert at the University of Cologne. German business monthly manager Magazine, citing internal documents, suggested that the gorillas lose 1.50 euros ($1.82) on every order.

At the same time, foreign rivals such as Turkey’s Getir and UK-based Weezy are eyeing a launch in Europe’s biggest economy, where they will compete for the same limited pool of riders – already shrinking as other parts of the economy wake up Huh. pandemic lockdown.

“The strikes show that the current model is difficult to carry forward,” Reinertz said. “You need people who want to do this work.”

The company’s chief executive, Kagan Sumner, said in a message to employees that he was “deeply disturbed” by the events of the past day, but stressed that the firing of Rider was a “difficult but necessary decision”.

Sumner did not address the widespread grievances of the protesters, but instead announced plans to introduce cycling to every city where the company operates, to meet with employees and ride in cities with them.

In the September mayoral election, Klaus Lederer, the Left’s candidate, expressed his support for the striking guerrilla activists.

“If these companies want to build a future in Berlin, they need to immediately respect the minimum standards of treating their employees fairly,” he said.

Riders like Cameln insist they can force change from below.

“We live in Germany.” They said. “We don’t live in a random country with no labor laws.”

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Follow Frank Jordan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/wirereporter

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