On-demand grocery startup Gorillas is battling worker protests in its home town of Berlin, a sign of potential headaches as fast-growing grocery startups flush with venture capital cash balance scaling with worker concerns.
Gorillas riders staged protests on Thursday after a rider was fired at 2pm the previous day. The worker's council alleges he was fired without adequate warning, but a company spokesperson said the employee had been dismissed "during his probationary period, solely for reasons of gross misconduct."
About 200 riders, warehouse workers and onlookers gathered in the boiling June heat at the startup’s Prenzlauer Allee warehouse. Workers chanted, “We want Santi back!”, referring to the employee who had been dismissed and blocked two entrances. Operations at the warehouse continued as usual; a few riders who wanted to continue working pushed through the protesters.
Three employees present said that their line managers at Gorillas told them they would be fired if they attended today's protest. Gorillas later told Sifted: "It is not true that a driver or any employee will be fired for standing up for drivers' employee rights."
The protests at Europe’s second-most valuable on-demand grocery startup are reminiscent of the labour battles waged by earlier generation gig economy giants such as Uber. With more scrutiny over the treatment of couriers, investors say that on-demand grocery startups — the newest courier delivery service to take off in Europe — will have to navigate worker concerns carefully if they are to succeed.
On-demand delivery companies like Gorillas offer customers about 1k to 2k grocery items that can be ordered via an app and arrive in less than 15 minutes. These goods are stocked in ‘dark stores’ — mini-warehouses in the city centre — and delivered by a fleet of riders, mostly on e-bikes.
“We want to show the company it’s not going to be easy to fire somebody without any reason. Every stupid decision [by the company] will make our movement stronger,” said workers’ council member Marcos Vernengo at the protest.
The council has three demands for Gorillas: an end to termination without three warnings, no more six-month probation period for new riders, and a rehire of Santiago, the rider dismissed Wednesday. Santiago declined to give his last name.
German police arrived at 11am to the Prenzlauer Allee warehouse to manage the crowd and stop protesters from blocking the warehouse entrance, though the overall atmosphere was calm and collegial. Some workers even opened beers. Workers council members identified themselves with daisies tucked behind their ears.
"Gorillas is actively engaged in a factual dialogue with the employee group and a de-escalation of the situation on site," a spokesperson said to Sifted. "As in all companies, we have clear guidelines when it comes to misconduct that can result in termination of employment. These are in place for all employees to adhere to when working, this includes our riders, warehouse staff to those at headquarters. This week, following several cases of gross misconduct, the decision was made to terminate the contract of an individual within their probation period.”