On-demand grocery delivery company Gorillas fired dozens of its riders Monday for participating in a series of wildcat strikes that shuttered several of its Berlin warehouses.
The move comes amidst escalating tensions between Gorillas and its Berlin riders, who have continued to intermittently strike in demand of higher wages, better safety equipment and consistent payment of wages, among other things. In June, Motherboard obtained a recording of an internal Zoom call where Gorillas CEO Kağan Sümer accused striking workers of “political ambition” and blamed protests on unnamed “external parties.”
The latest strikes began Friday when a number of warehouses voted to go on strike. The strikes continued into the weekend, with riders picketing and blockading warehouse entrances. Motherboard verified that deliveries were unavailable in several parts of Berlin using the Gorillas app.
On Monday afternoon a number of riders from the striking warehouses were removed from Gorillas’ WhatsApp groups and then received termination letters. While a termination letter obtained by Motherboard does not give a reason for the “extraordinary termination” (Gorillas riders are considered employees, not independent contractors) some workers were reportedly told in phone calls with management that “attending illegal strikes” was the reason behind the termination.
Duygu Kaya was one of the workers fired after participating in the strikes and an active member of organizing efforts. She said the firings were clearly meant to create a chilling effect among workers.
“Over the past few months Gorillas has chronically understaffed warehouses and has consistently pushed us to our limits by trying to do more and more with less and less riders,” Kaya said. “We went on strike to show that we are not objects to be toyed with, that we aren’t just robots.”
“Gorillas was an incredibly toxic place to work and management is incompetent at every level,” she added.
The Gorillas Workers Collective said they had confirmed at least 40 firings and that almost the entire workforce of three striking warehouses had been terminated. In response to the firings, some Gorillas workers pointed to a video shared in July in which CEO Kağan Sümer told riders he “would never fire someone for a strike.”
Gorillas confirmed to Motherboard that workers had been fired for attending “unannounced” strikes, but refused to disclose how many were fired. In an email, the company accused the striking workers of putting their colleagues at risk.
“Since Friday, there have been a series of unannounced wild strikes, blockades, and the barricading of warehouse emergency exits by employees from a number of our Berlin locations,” a spokesperson wrote. “Under German labour law, announced, non-unionized, spontaneous strikes such as these are not permitted, and thus have no legal basis.”
“Following several warnings and after much consideration, we are compelled to enforce the legal framework and have decided to dismiss the employees who actively participated in these unauthorized strikes and blockades, prohibited operations and actively placed their fellow employees and the public at risk,” they continued.
In the wake of the firings, the Gorillas Workers Collective announced that it would be demonstrating Tuesday in front of Gorillas’ Berlin headquarters against “outrageous union-busting actions.”
During the strike, two Gorillas executives dressed as riders approached the striking workers and reportedly told them they “want to ride, not strike.” Workers at the scene say they were unaware that the two ‘riders’ were in fact Gorillas’ CCO and COO until a worker later identified them. In an email to Motherboard, a Gorillas spokesperson said the executives were “not incognito” and that Ronny Gottschlich, the company’s CCO, is “in particular known to all riders.”
Earlier this year, Gorillas management allegedly attempted to lure riders away from a work council vote with the promise of free beer.