For more than two months, eleven workers of the Walther König chain of museum bookstores in Munich, Germany have been supported in their labour struggle by the FAU, the ICL section in Germany. What began as a struggle against unfair labour practices has now turned into a fight to overturn the workers’ termination.
As art historians, theater producers and art students, the staff members have always enjoyed working in the Walther Koenig bookstores (Buchhandlung Walther König) and were able to make a meaningful contribution to the stores’ image and sales. However, they were no longer able to accept what they deemed to be systematic exploitative practices (that were further exacerbated during the corona crisis) of this chain of bookstores, which predominantly relies on student employees.
On 8 February 2021, the working students at the Koenig bookstores in Munich and the FAU demanded paid sick days, entitlement to paid leave and a living wage. The employees are paid just over the minimum wage in the most expensive city in Germany. They also called for the cancellation of the negative hours that were illegally accumulated during the pandemic. The company had called on the employees to later work off the negative hours, thus unloading their business risk on their employees. All eleven student workers at the Munich branches were then presented with a notice of termination on March 2, 2021 – a reaction that reeks of union busting.
Since 10 March 2021, the employees have been calling attention to their situation, protesting and distributing leaflets in front of the three museums Lenbachhaus, Brandhorst and Haus der Kunst that have Walther Koenig bookstores as tenants. One of the museums has already distanced itself from the bookstore: “We regret the development and are very concerned about the accusations made … The management of the Lenbachhaus has asked several times that a fair and equitable agreement be reached here,” says the Lenbachhaus art museum’s management.
While the bookstore managers have predictably denied any wrong doing in the press, there has been no response to demands for basic workers’ rights, nor offers to discuss the demands and the situation. “We believe that the situation requires attention in order to rethink the reputation of a company so established within the art world. Without outside pressure, little will change in respect to our situation, nor will employment conditions improve in the other 45 stores,” say the workers of the Munich Walther König bookstores. The company has many branches throughout Germany as well as in Paris, London, Milan, Vienna and Brussels.
Since the layoffs, the Munich stores have been left almost without employees. And this despite the fact that museums in Munich have been allowed to reopen to a limited capacity despite COVID-19. So while a sign on the bookstore window reads that it must remain closed temporarily, this is absurdly not because of the corona crisis but because the employees have been fired for what the company claims are economic reasons.
The FAU Munich and the employees are now taking legal actions in order to achieve justice in the following issues: The dubious layoffs, the denial of entitlement to paid leave, the illegal accumulation of “negative hours” during the lockdown, and the wages for February that were not paid. “To take legal actions is the next logical consequence for us, as there is no response to our demands. However, what we demand are only basic rights all workers are entitled to. Our goal is to put an end to this abuse – in all Walther König branches”, one of the workers states concerning further action.
Of course, the workers and the FAU Munich will continue to call attention to the situation, protest in front of the stores, and demand fair conditions and wages. “The rally in front of the museum has shown that our case doesn’t fall on deaf ears – most of the people we talked to were shocked by the behavior of the bookstore chain. We also get a lot of response from employees in other cities who experience the same conditions and support our cause,” a student worker says.
The ICL will also observe and report on the situation and provide assistance and solidarity wherever necessary.
Please send a protest letter to the Walther König bookstore management. It can be found here along with more information about the struggle: https://fau-m.de/en/struggles-campaigns/walther-k%C3%B6nig
Social media pages about the struggle: twitter, instagram, facebook, YouTube
You can get in touch with the workers here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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