Amazon Reopens French Warehouses After Making Peace With Unions

(Bloomberg) -- After five weeks at home, Inc. workers have made peace with the e-commerce giant and are back at work in French warehouses.

The Seattle-based company agreed to step up sanitary measures for workers in its warehouses and said it will maintain a program offering employees an extra 2 euros per hour until the end of the month, a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg on Tuesday. The unions, in turn, backed down on a legal challenge that had prevented Amazon from selling “non-essential” items in the country.

The truce brings to an end a battle for workers’ rights during the pandemic that cost the company market share in France and, according to a person familiar with management’s discussions, left executives concerned it could fuel labor unrest in the U.S.

“We are satisfied that we’ve finally been heard and that a solution was found,” CGT labor union representative Alain Jeault said.

Workers will have their temperature checked and will be required to wear masks on the job. Amazon said it will also make more hand sanitizer available and implement measures to prevent too many people gathering together at once, such as staggering shift times. The measures will likely remain in place until a treatment or vaccine for Covid-19 is found, the unions said. Independent inspectors will visit the company’s six warehouses to check on sanitation, the CGT said.

About 30% of the workers returned on Tuesday, and Amazon and the unions expect all employees to resume work in early June. Staff have been paid their full salaries during the shutdown.

Amazon may have lost more than 10 percentage points of market share during the lockdown, according to data analytics company Foxintelligence. The firm’s share of non-food e-commerce fell to 25% the week of May 4 from 36% in the week before the shutdown, benefiting rivals such as Cdiscount and Fnac Darty SA, according to the data.

Still, Amazon has a long history of disputes with the unions and the peace is an uneasy one. The company has butted heads with organized labor in the past over issues such as pay and working conditions. After French courts ruled that it wasn’t doing enough to protect workers and forbade the company from selling some products, Amazon fought back by shutting down its warehouses to prevent fines, filling orders from Germany, Belgium and Spain.

“Yes to the progressive return to operations, but vigilance” must be maintained, said Jean-Francois Berot, the Sud Solidarites union representative who filed the lawsuit against the company that triggered the shutdown. “Those measures will last in time, but in what form?”

Sud Solidarites unions and the CGT have said they will demand that the 2-euro supplement to workers’ pay be made permanent.

“There was never a quarrel between Amazon and France,” said Frederic Duval, Amazon’s French unit head, in an interview on France Info radio on Tuesday. The resumption of operations is “excellent news” for employees, customers and businesses that rely on Amazon sales, he added.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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