A short account of winning a transport workers' unpaid wages.
Jobs in the transport sector are among the lowest paid occupations. Wages in this branch are placed under intense pressure by the transport companies, which are in turn highly dependent on their customers. By exerting pressure on the transport firms, these customers, corporate or otherwise, exert indirect control over wage levels. The workers have a weak lobby, and the level of union organization is low.
In order to cut costs and reduce risk numerous subsidiary transport companies are founded. These are often limited in size, so there are neither works' councils nor workers' organizations that stretch beyond the level of the individual company. The employers are often highly organized, via family ties, for example. Such was the case in Bremen, where a syndicalist was employed by a food transport and logistics firm.
His fight for owed wages began with the following letter:
Bremen, January 24th, 2005
To: Dähn Logistics & Transport
Re: Payment of Wages for December, 2004
Mr. and Mrs. Dähn,
With this letter I formally request the payment of my wages (349.48*) within the next three days, via bank transfer. Although you already have my account information (it is listed on my wage statement) I have provided it again below.
I would like to add that Mrs. Dähn, who refused to pay my wages earlier today, errs in her assumption that my verbal termination of employment is not official. The end of my employment at the company as of the 31st of December, 2004, has been noted on my wage statement, which you produced. Consequently, all the legal requirements concerning the termination of employment have been fulfilled.
I have fulfilled my duties as an employee, you are delinquent in the payment of wages. If the money owed to me is not transferred to my account within the next 3 days I will file suite for non-payment of wages at the Labor Court in Bremen and use all legal methods available, including a request for support from the Employees' Association and a demand for interest on the late wages paid.
He promptly called on his union for assistance. On the webpage of the Bremen Free Workers' Union (FAU) he explained the case and announced that if the wages remained unpaid the union would take action. After an official statement by the union on its webpage, reprinted below, the owner paid up within days, hoping too avoid further damage to his small company's image:
Enrico Dähn Transportation refuses to pay wages
Dähn Transportation and Logistics is a major sub-contractor for Menke-Menu (Meals on Wheels, Worksite Catering), as well as a deliverer of newspapers and magazines in the greater Bremen area. The employee turnover at Dähn is high, due to the low wages and crowded delivery schedule. The majority of workers are employed on a 350-Euro-a-month basis. The contracts offered are among the worst in Bremen. The questionnaires distributed to new employees put workers at a disadvantage-inquiries include union affiliation and plans for pregnancy.
In this particular case the driver announced his intent to terminate employment in December, and was duly noted on his wage statement and accepted. Mr. and Mrs. Dähn, however, are refusing to pay the last of his wages. According to Mrs. Dähn, her husband wanted to "speak to the driver personally." The worker in question responded that he'd be ready to speak to Mr. Dähn immediately, at which point Mrs. Dähn informed him that a business appointment had been moved up and her husband was indisposed and unreachable by phone. In classic robber baron style they refused to acknowledge his documented claim to payment. The behavior of the Dähns demonstrates the arbitrary nature in which they handle their workers. The individual affected set Friday, the 28th of January as the final deadline for payment, after which point the case will be brought before the Bremen Labor Court. The FAU-Bremen has demanded that Dähn Transportation pay the owed wages immediately and announced public action should this not occur. The union will continue to inform the public on further developments.
Cough up the money, Mr. Dähn!
The debtor was clearly concerned about his company's name, which is demonstrated by the fact that he demanded that the article be removed from the union's website immediately after transferring the owed wages. The union complied, but added a new article with the title:
Why didn't you do it in the first place, Mr. Dähn?
It appears that Enrico Mike Dähn and his wife Silke are among those who don't take the rights of "their" workers seriously. As reported, the pair refused to pay a driver's wages for the month of December, 2004. He and the FAU set January 28th, 2005, as the deadline for payment. While the FAU was preparing for the first public actions the Dähns decided they'd pay the wages after all and transferred the funds. We're just wondering, why didn't you do it in the first place, Mr. Dähn?
At the same time, this demonstrates the need for union organization in the low-wage sector to succesfully combat employers' arbitrary actions. Join the Union!
In the Union paper, "Direkte Aktion" (DA), an article appeared in the March/April edition:
Sub-contractors and Unpaid Wages - Bremen: FAU helps worker obtain pay
Raise profits, cut risks, that's the motto of companies that outsource to subcontractors. These sub-contractors naturally do the same: raise earnings, cut personnel costs. This generally takes the form of low wages and flexible conditions of employment. In Bremen there is the transportation sub-contractor "Enrico Dähn Transportation and Logistics," which delivers periodicals and performs services for "Menke Menu." Among the practices employed by this sub-contractor are "morally questionable" questions posed to new workers concerning union association and planned pregnancies (which no one is required to answer!). Can it get any worse?
Apparently, as we have recently learned that one of our members, a driver employed by the firm, has been denied his wages. Our colleague informed the Dähns about the unpaid wages, but since this fell on deaf ears he turned to his union, the Free Workers Union (FAU) in Bremen…A demand for payment was delivered to Dähn with the support of the FAUBremen, in which a deadline was set. Public union action and a lawsuit through the Bremen Labor Court were threatened if payment was not received. The wages were paid quite quickly at this point-after four weeks' delay!
Since unpaid wages are a logical consequence of the economic factors mentioned above we have to expect that this will occur more often. As this example shows, this can only be fought by organizing all wage workers. Any sub-contractor who thinks that he can improve the conditions of his own exploitation by exploiting others more ruthlessly won't just encounter pressure from above! Get organized and contact your local FAU!
Max Hilse (FAU-Bremen) (Translation from German by John Carroll)