Managers of the grocery delivery app Gorillas attempted to lure riders from voting at a general assembly by offering to take them to a beer garden, according to eyewitnesses and riders present.
In May, Motherboard spoke to multiple riders who complained about poor working conditions at Gorillas, which is currently the fastest growing unicorn in Europe. Among other things, they pointed to grueling delivery times, chronic back pain, and unpaid hours.
Following these complaints, a group of riders in Berlin—where Gorillas launched—organized, forming the Gorillas Workers Collective. The collective later began the process of establishing a work council in Berlin earlier this year. In Germany, works councils have co-determination rights on a number of topics, including break times and safety arrangements, as well as consultation rights and right to information.
On June 4, over 200 riders and workers attended a general assembly organized by the Gorillas Workers Collective. The purpose of a general assembly is to elect an electoral council that is then tasked with overseeing the work council elections.
In previous emails to Motherboard and riders, Gorillas expressed support for the work council effort, but its tone changed markedly the days of and after the general assembly. Members of Gorillas management became belligerent after being refused at the door, three riders told Motherboard.
In an email sent to riders after the assembly seen by Motherboard, Gorillas argued that middle management employees, such as warehouse supervisors, are “non-managerial employees” and should have been allowed to vote.
Both the Gorillas Workers Collective on its Twitter account and two separate eyewitnesses to Motherboard said that Gorillas managers unsuccessfully attempted to sneak back into the assembly after being refused entry, including by using a back door to the building.
The two eyewitnesses also claimed that members of Gorillas management tried to persuade some workers to leave the assembly by offering to take them to a beer garden for free drinks.
In a phone call, Labournet TV, an independent news platform that was covering the assembly, confirmed to Motherboard it had later also seen a group of five managers speaking to a group of riders outside the assembly, and overheard them trying to convince workers to leave the assembly and go to a beer garden instead. After approaching one of the riders, a manager reportedly yelled: “Don’t talk to them, they’re press!”
Motherboard sent an email to Gorillas with a set of questions, including whether it was true that members of Gorillas management had offered workers to go to a beer garden instead of attending the assembly and whether some members had attempted to sneak into the building. In an email response, Gorillas did not address either of these claims and instead sent a general statement regarding a recent rider strike.
“At Gorillas we deliberately set ourselves apart from the gig economy,” the spokesperson wrote. “All Gorillas employees, including riders, are contractually employed, giving them regular working hours on a full- or part-time contract, health insurance, sick pay, career pathing opportunities and a stable income.”
After the general assembly successfully ended, riders in Berlin later received an email at midnight from Gorillas stating that the company would be “clarifying the legal basis” for the election.
“At Gorillas we stand for unity and inclusivity - We don’t accept exclusion and will not let this pass unnoticed,” the email, seen by Motherboard, reads. “Therefore, we will thoroughly assess what happened, clarify the legal basis, seek the conversation with the initiators to foster elections that are in line with Gorillas values, obviously allowing everyone legally eligible to vote.”
On June 9, tensions between Gorillas and riders went from simmer to boil after a rider was fired. According to the Gorillas Workers Collective and three riders whom Motherboard spoke to, the rider was fired for being late. In an email to Motherboard, Gorillas confirmed that the worker had been fired for “misconduct,” but refused to give further details, citing his right to privacy.
(It is important to note that in Germany, workers can be fired without justification or warning during their first six months of employment).
Since June 9, a group of riders has been on a wildcat strike, blocking multiple warehouses throughout Berlin and pledging to continue doing so until the rider is reinstated. In the past few days, riders and labor groups have protested across Germany in solidarity with the striking workers in Berlin.