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 the workers’ council alleged that a rider was fired without adequate warning on Wednesday. The worker, Santiago, confirmed to Sifted that he had been fired. He declined to give his last name.
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!” and blocked two entrances, though operations at the warehouse continued as usual. A few riders who wanted to continue working pushed through the protesters.
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 gig workers, investors say that on-demand grocery startups — the newest gig economy 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 rides, and a rehire of Santiago.
German police arrived at 11 a.m. 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.
Sifted has reached out to Gorillas PR for comment about the protest, the council demands and the worker who was allegedly terminated.