Three members of Worker’s Initiative (Incjatywa Pracownicza), a Polish trade union organization at Amazon have won their lawsuits since the beginning of 2019. The court ordered compensation and revoking the disciplinary penalties. The members of the union dismissed for not meeting the productivity targets and for absence due to health issues say that it's worth defending your interest and to challenge employer's decisions in court.
On February 21 The Regional Court of Jeżyce-Grunwald in Poznań granted the dismissed employees 7056 zloty (Polish currency) compensation. Mikita worked in the workhouse as a stower, a person who places products on the shelves. From the beginning, he was a member of the Worker’s Initiative, he supported the union by giving out leaflets and took part in its meetings. At the beginning of 2016, he started to get sick and in August Amazon dismissed him due to 28,77 % absence in the period between February and July 2016. In the termination notice, the employer stated that the absence implied negative attitude towards work and that it compelled the employer to take special measures that included among others reorganizing the schedule. That, in turn, as the employer alleged, entailed looking for replacements and requiring from other employees to work overtime. At the trial, Piotr Krzyżaniak, the representative of the Worker’s Initiative argued that there was no connection between the plaintiff’s absence and the alleged overtime of other employees and new hirings. Companies like Amazon, that constantly use the services of temporary employment agencies and take advantage of fixed-term contracts are notorious for failing to turn contracts to permanent ones; instead, they just hire new people. In announcing the verdict, the judge said that the individual absence of this particular employee had not affected the employer's interests and it cannot be said that he had a negative attitude to work.
Asked to comment on his successful court case Mikita says: ”I did not expect to win this. I was pleasantly surprised to see the union back me up this way. If it hadn’t been for them I would have never engaged in this lawsuit. I would have just left and looked for some other job. I am really grateful. In Belarus, where I am originally from, the unions are just a facade. The job itself initially seemed quite alright, as an immigrant I’ve learned not to be too picky. But with time it started to take its toll on my health, to this day I am recovering from certain indispositions that first appeared while working in Amazon. The job was exhausting, constantly under supervision. Chasing work quotas, under constant pressure, I felt like in prison; I would not want to go through it again. Currently, I am working in the transportation industry, it’s a sedentary work; I can have some coffee, take a short walk to stretch my legs; I breathe easier and my pay is considerably higher. I am very glad about winning in court and I wish others to have humane working conditions.”
It is the third successful case against Amazon concerning employees laid off due to their health issues. Previously, similar cases - of Joanna and of Daria - went to District Court, that confirmed that the ordered compensation was justified, by dismissing the appeal. The union works to secure stable working conditions and multiple times it has been giving out leaflets with a slogan that says “Amazon hires - Amazon fires”.
On February 6, 2019, in turn, the same court reinstated Maciej, another member of Workers Initiative sacked for not “meeting the target” or, as Amazon prefers to put it, for “not meeting the desired productivity level”. Maciej had worked in the packing department and he also had been an instructor there. He was sacked on August 31, 2016. In the termination note, the employer put a table with stats of target fulfillment rate for each week where the target rate had not been met. In some cases “not meeting the target” meant working at 99,68% and 96,8% rate. The Worker’s Initiative organized a picket line in his defense at the current Amazon headquarters in Warsaw, Polish capital. Maciej spoke at the protests; he emphasized: “We need to oppose such practices at the company. If they are able to fire anyone, or even more so if they are able to fire union members, they’ll think they can do anything to anyone and they’ll completely stop taking our opinion into consideration” (watch the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIRRIOU62fA ). Katarzyna Górna from the Art Workers Committee (Komisja Środowiskowa Pracowników Sztuki) associated with the Worker’s Initiative invited him to take part in her documentary on the Situationists movement named “Sytuacja, która w Polsce się nie zdarzyła” (Situation that hasn’t happened in Poland) where he described his experience with working at Amazon. During Maciej’s trial, his representative drew attention to the fact that in 10 out of 18 weeks analyzed in his termination notice, Maciej had met the productivity standards, twice even meeting 120% of the target rate and Amazon had never taken that into account. According to union members, the productivity rating system is nothing but a way for Amazon to get leverage over the inconvenient workers. In its verbal justification, the Court stated that Amazon’s directives that regulate the evaluation of worker’s performance are incompatible with Article 8 of the Polish Labor Code. According to that article: ”No one is allowed to exercise any rights in the manner that would be contrary to their socio-economic objective or the principles of community co-existence”. The Court asserts that the evaluation of worker’s performance cannot be based on constant rivalry (the workers call it a “rat race”). What’s more, an evaluation that does not take into consideration the positive input of the employee is unacceptable. The decision to advice the termination of a work contract cannot be based solely on the number of bad performance reviews. Court’s decision is not yet final.
From October 2018 to January 2019 Worker’s Initiative participated in negotiations on changing the worker’s evaluation regulations. The negotiations collapsed; the employer refused to introduce important changes put forward by the union and wanted to eliminate the system of praises. The judgment in Maciej’s case confirmed Worker’s Initiative's position that Amazon’s employee's evaluation regulations are against the law.
Thirdly, on January 24, The Regional Court of Jeżyce-Grunwald in Poznań overturned two reprimands given to Agnieszka, an active member of Worker’s Initiative. In its verbal justification, the Court explained that the trade unions cannot be treated by the employer as a “necessary evil” but as a party to work with in partnership. Therefore, Amazon should refrain from confrontational actions that escalate the tensions in the workplace.One of the reprimands that Agnieszka got was for accepting a few filled-out trade union forms from other employees in the work hours. The second one was for leaving her post in order to use the toilet. Court’s decision is not yet final.
Piotr Krzyżaniak who has represented Worker's Initiative in all of the above cases in court comments that it's worth to challenge employer's decisions in court. These cases refer to situations that are very common, yet in most cases, it never occurs to the employees to appeal and that's why companies like Amazon have a sense of impunity. Yet the workers joined together in unions are not left alone with their problems. These few successful cases gave the union the basis to challenge some of the employer's practices, also as a part of a larger campaign, outside of the courtroom. Successful verdicts, in turn, provide legal arguments that can be used in cases against other companies.
[special thanks to our supporter for the translation work]