The CEO of emerging European grocery delivery app Gorillas accused protesting riders of engaging in “a political play” and ranted about “external parties” destroying his vision, according to a recording of an all-hands Zoom meeting obtained by Motherboard.
The all-hands Zoom meeting took place on June 11, the third day of a series of strikes and demonstrations that shut down multiple warehouses in Berlin ignited by the firing of a rider during his probation period. According to striking workers, the rider was fired for being late. In an email to Motherboard, a Gorillas spokesperson said the rider had been fired for “misconduct,” but did not provide further details.
Since the three day strike, riders in a number of cities, including London, Bruges, and Dusseldorf, have held demonstrations in solidarity with the Berlin-based Gorillas workers and demanded that the rider be reinstated.
Before the all-hands Zoom meeting, when Motherboard reached out to Gorillas about allegations that managers attempted to lure riders away from a work council vote with free beer, as well as the strikes in Berlin, a Gorillas spokesperson told Motherboard that the company is “actively engaged in a factual dialogue” and “a de-escalation of the situation on site.”
But in a Slack message to an internal channel a day before Gorillas provided comment to Motherboard, Gorillas CEO and co-founder Kağan Sümer suggeted he wasn't interested in de-escalation.
“I talked to Public Affairs agencies, PR people, crisis comms people… they told me to de-escalate.” Sümer said in a Slack message seen by Motherboard. “And if you know me a bit I would rather die to protect values then [sic] to be a deescaltor. Details tomorrow. Movement begins.”
In response to a set of questions from Motherboard seeking clarification for statements made in the message and the all-hands Zoom meeting, a Gorillas spokesperson said: “We do not comment on internal correspondence within the Gorillas team and on Gorillas’ internal channels.”
The roughly 20-minute all-hands Zoom meeting began with the sound of techno music as Sümer waited for employees to join. Rather than address the protesting riders' grievances—which range from job insecurity, to grueling back pain and order weights, to unpaid hours—Sümer accused them of “creating a political ambition.”
“So Gorillas is a riders company, not a politics company,” Sümer said. “So within this frame this escalation is an escalation of external parties, you know, like external stakeholders, and also not only organized externally, but also it's that misinformation can be picked up quite easily.”
Sümer did not explain who the “external parties” were, but did mention that the “smile” when riders deliver orders is “genuine.” He also said that 60 percent of the new riders signing up for the company were referrals from current Gorillas riders, but did not mention that referrals are rewarded with up to €250 euros, depending on the market.
Finally, Sümer announced that he would be going on a bike tour to different warehouses to “engage in dialogue.”
“Because this is one of our core values: authentic people taking bold decisions always be riding and changing things,” he said. “But this change doesn't happen on the keyboards. This doesn't happen on the political agendas."
Despite repeatedly mentioning that Gorillas was open to dialogue, he did not take questions and the chat for the Zoom call was disabled.
The call was met with criticism by the Gorillas Workers Collective, one of the organizers of the strikes, which later posted a poll on Twitter of “bingo card” phrases from the call, including “we are a movement” and “this isn’t about politics.” Meanwhile, the popular Instagram meme account gorillasriderlife posted a number of memes ridiculing the call.
Three riders who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation told Motherboard they were mostly critical of the meeting. One rider described it as a “complete and utter farce” and a “slap in the face” to the riders’ legitimate concerns. Another said that the warehouse tour proposed by Sümer is not “a solution to any problem,” but may “help as a community event” if many riders are allowed to join.
After mounting media coverage, demonstrations, and a set of 30 testimonies from riders complaining about unpaid or missing hours shared on the gorillasriderlife account, Gorillas announced a set of steps in its internal newsletter that it claimed it would be taking to improve conditions for riders.
In an email to Motherboard, a Gorillas spokesperson outlined some of these steps, including “software-based weight indications” designed to calculate in advance whether orders will be too heavy and changes to the payment system meant to improve “timekeeping accuracy.”
A number of grievances of the protesting riders were not addressed, however, including Gorillas’ six-month probation period where riders can be fired without justification—six months is the maximum length of the probation period allowed under German law.
“We are a very young company, yet we are learning fast and we want to take on our
responsibility for our riders. For us it’s important to continue on that path of partnership and we are optimistic that our riders will see the impact of all our measures soon,” the spokesperson wrote.