The on-demand grocery delivery startup has reached unicorn status in less than a year, faster than any other German start-up. Yet the rapid success of Kağan Sümer’s Gorillas app has come at a great cost, and that is the workers. Criticism of how employees are treated is growing; and with allegations of union busting, unsafe conditions, and ignoring of covid regulations, will Gorillas go the way of the infamous JUUL?
How It All Started
The Covid-19 pandemic changed how we live, in some ways, permanently. Millions around the world now had to get everything through online delivery. A simple trip to the supermarket meant exposure to an unknown and deadly virus.
Kağan Sümer entered the food delivery competition with his Gorillas app and has thrived in this environment. Sümer calls Gorillas a family, adding: “We are not business people building a delivery company, we are delivery people building a business.” A line many workers now quote as a joke. Sümer even claims to test out delivery routes himself, noting he is an avid bike rider.
And while many customers are happy with the promised delivery time of less than 10 minutes and investors clamor to get in on the next round, many workers say not so fast.
Workers complain of poor and unsafe working conditions and no avenue to report them. Workers note that when complaints are relayed to management, they are ignored. Negative comments and complaints to the Gorillas Facebook page are similarly deleted.
Drivers also report being tracked by management through the driver app, even when they are not working. A violation of their privacy.
Delivery drivers have complained of being denied breaks and suffering racist attacks while working with no recourse. Gorillas also offers different hourly pay for the same job, with no explanation. It is the luck of the draw of when you are hired, something many workers complain is wholly unfair.
Workers also report not receiving their full wages and tips, having their hours manipulated by management – resulting in employees getting fewer hours than promised, and a repeal of benefits, such as phone repairs and monthly data allowances.
Gorillas now offers a paltry 7 to 15 euro monthly lump sum to cover all phone costs. As phones are essential for their job, drivers are left with no choice but to cover the excess costs of data and repairs themselves.
Delivery drivers, similar to riders for other food delivery apps, complain the bags they are expected to carry are far too heavy, with many reporting injuries as a result. Another issue is surveillance; workers reported cameras being set up in warehouses without employees being informed. Once the issue came to light, the cameras were promptly removed.
Employees also report being forced to work in unsafe weather. This past winter, when Germany was experiencing below zero temperatures, accompanied by ice and snow, the food service tried to entice employees to work with offers off free soup. When workers refused, Gorillas instead claimed to be shutting down temporarily in the name of worker safety.
One former employee tweeted: “@gorillasapp is complete trash and I wish I never worked for them to begin with.”
Food delivery is an essential service during lockdowns, yet Gorillas is reported to have blatantly ignored Corona regulations meant to keep its employees safe. For example, social distancing is non-existent and mask wearing inconsistent in the mini-warehouses. With the first, there it is simply not possible. There is no room to both be socially distant and do the job. As for the second, workers report that it is management who is the most lax with mask wearing.
Corona tests, which were initially refused by Gorillas, and when eventually offered, only at one a week in Germany, when the law required two. When tests were finally offered, employees were forced to come in and take the tests on their own time. Eventually, Gorillas offered the two tests a week and on paid company time, a victory that workers say was hard fought.
The food delivery service is also said to have ignored a positive corona case in one of its warehouses, putting multiple employees and even customers at risk.
Furthermore, employees were refused a letter of confirmation from Gorillas for being out during the curfew, making them vulnerable to police fines while travelling to and from their job. Management told workers, that if they encountered a problem, to show the police a copy of their shift schedule.
The Twitter account Riders United Gorillas reports multiple accounts of employee abuse, including manipulative and abusive measures to shut down employee efforts to unionize.
The Twitter account said it opened because: “Since the management chooses to methodically ignore our requests and demands for better working conditions, we decided that it’s time to let ourselves be heard by the public in our struggle for an equitable workplace.”
And it is not the only one, another account dedicated to Gorillas drivers in the Netherlands opened as well, featuring similar complaints.
To protest their conditions, workers in Germany have tried to unionize, or form work councils. One delivery driver who strongly campaigned for unionization and employee rights was fired for these efforts.
Employees report other tactics and intimidation by management to prevent unions, including trying to control the list of candidates for the proposed councils. This effort to unionize is reflective of efforts from food delivery drivers all over the world who are fighting for better conditions, pay, and overall treatment.
Amidst all this, Gorillas is in its third round to raise funds, in order to continue expanding, but as one former employee tweeted, referring to Gorillas: “if you are a company that can’t pay essential workers livable wage or anything close to that during a pandemic, you don’t deserve to expand to other cities.”