Düsseldorf, San Francisco The new Twitter owner Elon Musk announced mass layoffs just a few days after the takeover: he canceled every second job at the online service without any announcement, further layoffs soon followed. However, this drastic cut is likely to have a legal repercussion – also in this country.
Several employees of Twitter Deutschland GmbH have joined the Verdi service union after the announcement of the layoffs. According to Handelsblatt information, this now supports those affected in dismissal protection lawsuits as well as in the establishment of a works council.
“I want to show how impossible I find dealing with people,” said a Twitter employee, who can be called Tom, in an interview with the Handelsblatt. “We fought for workers’ rights in Germany, which should not be given up because American corporations have different ideas.“
Verdi was confident that the new members would have good prospects in labor disputes. “Twitter probably thought it would be easier to issue the dismissals,” Matthias von Fintel, who heads the media, journalism and film section at the trade union, told Handelsblatt. Twitter could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Tom has also experienced how big the chaos on Twitter was last time. The first work orders were received just one day after the takeover at the end of October. On a Friday evening – Tom was just at a concert – colleagues in the USA asked him to quickly get involved in new projects – even in the middle of the night. However, the projects were not of long duration.
Termination without notice
Shortly thereafter, Twitter announced mass layoffs, and almost half of the 7,500 employees at that time received the dismissal by e-mail at the beginning of November. Musk then gave the remaining workforce an ultimatum: only those who engage in hard work with numerous overtime hours should be allowed to stay.
Tom, whose identity is known to the Handelsblatt, also met it. His access has been restricted. He could no longer log in to Slack, the central communication channel on Twitter. Only a few hours later he received an e-mail that his position was “possibly” affected by the terminations. A written notice of termination did not arrive until more than a week later.
Tom could not work during this time – so he took the opportunity to find out about labor law. Soon after, he contacted the Verdi trade union.
Tom understands that big changes are needed. “Twitter has grown too much in recent years,” he says. Decisions were often made late because too many management levels were involved. “Everything went too slowly, Musk is right,” says the IT specialist. “But you should go into the process together.“
No severance pay in Germany?
There is resistance to Musk’s behavior in various places. In the US, employees have filed a class action lawsuit. The accusation: Twitter has disregarded legal requirements – for example, the WARN Act in California stipulates that mass layoffs must be announced 60 days in advance. The outcome of the proceedings is open.
In the US, however, not only Twitter employees are suing the company – employees of subcontractors have also filed a lawsuit. For a number of tasks, such as the removal of offensive content, Twitter had employed thousands of specialists through contract companies. They were also dismissed at short notice. Lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan filed a lawsuit in the competent court in San Francisco. She expects that thousands of former contractors will join Twitter.
According to Verdi, Twitter Deutschland GmbH employed a little more than 30 people – in sales, development and IT security. According to Verdi, “a large part” of them have received the notice of termination. The union is now advising them on protection against dismissal.
A core of the employment law procedures: According to Verdi, Twitter has made Group-wide commitments, for example, for severance payments. However, there is no longer any mention of these conditions in the dismissals – there is nothing comparable known in Germany, the trade union reports.
At the same time, the former employees of Twitter are trying to establish a works council. Where the procedure leads is open, there may not be many employees in the GmbH in a few weeks, when the preparatory work has been completed. But it is “a signal to colleagues in other technology companies,” says Fintel union representatives.
In the IT industry, unions have been having a hard time so far. But if the Twitter employees succeed in asserting their interests, they could be an example for the employees of other technology companies, the union hopes. “We perceive that the attitude is changing due to the reduction of staff in large technology companies,” says von Fintel.