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Amazon Workers Take Effort To Unionize Largest Air Hub National

Above Photo: Unionization supporters gather near the Amazon Air – KCVG Sort Hub in Hebron, Ky., on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Sam Greene / The Enquirer.

The effort to unionize workers at the largest Amazon Air Hub in the world is going national. Local organizers with Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG announced Saturday that they’re joining forces with the national Amazon Labor Union, which unionized a Staten Island facility last year. They’re also beginning to collect union authorization cards, which include signatures from employees confirming they want to take the issue to a vote.

At least three dozen volunteers and members of the public rallied outside of the air hub Saturday afternoon, chanting and waiving signs with the workers’ demands: a $30-an-hour starting wage, 180 hours of paid time off annually with no cap on accrued time and union representation against discipline.

Roughly just as many workers rallied in the parking lot of the air hub facility where Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, spoke to the crowd. Smalls was fired from Amazon for his unionization efforts, he says. Amazon officials deny the allegation saying in an email that he was, “terminated for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment.”

Organizers say Amazon officials participated in intimidation tactics against workers because of the rally, adding a new ID checkpoint staffed with security – some workers and some from an outside security agency called Allied Universal. The security checkpoint was set up for the first time at 460 Day One Drive, a four-lane roadway that’s typically open.

In an emailed statement, Amazon Spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis said the company set up the checkpoint to ensure the safety and privacy of employees.

“As always, non-credentialed employees, community members and media must follow our standard process which prohibits the public from entering private property,” the email said.

Workers at the air hub eventually marched down to the public wearing their uniforms and launching into speeches.

“So, what were fighting for today is not just $30 an hour, not just job security, not just for this building. We’re fighting for our future, our children,” Smalls said.

He also warned workers that Amazon officials will try to stop workers’ efforts, including sending people to work among them to gather information and spread anti-union messages. Amazon has not verified whether they use these tactics.

“When you guys are victorious, you’re gonna have so much power that the world is going to stop,” he said.

Amazon officials said in a statement, “Despite a very small gathering initiated and mostly attended by outside organizers, our employees at KCVG continued to do what they do every day, deliver for our customers. While we’re always listening and looking at ways to improve, we remain proud of the competitive pay, comprehensive benefits, and engaging, safe work experience we provide our team at KCVG.”

The Enquirer estimates that the crowd of about 75 was about half workers or former workers and half local supporters, volunteers and union organizers from throughout the country.

Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG was founded late last year by a group of about two dozen employees, including truck driver Griffin Ritze.

Ritze previously told the Enquirer the air hub was managed by “fear, anxiety, and rumors.”

At the rally Saturday, he said, “The reality is I think a lot of people are intimidated by Amazon’s union busting … we’re pushing back on that. We got handfuls and handfuls of union cards signed today.”

He also talked about worker conditions alleging that a woman “slipped and fell and busted her head” during a winter storm when conditions were so cold, snowy and icy that some of the machinery didn’t work.

“So when they talk about safety, it’s bull—-,” he said.

What’s next?

Ritze said about 30% of employees – over 2,000 full-time employees, according to Amazon – need to sign a union authorization card before a vote can happen at the work place.

The National Labor Relations Board will then hold an election allowing every hourly worker the right to participate in a vote to unionize. KCVG workers could then form a new local of the Amazon Labor Union through a simple majority vote.

Other attempts to unionize Amazon facilities have failed in places like Albany, NY and Alabama.

The $1.5 billion Amazon Air Hub spans over 600 acres and processes millions of packages a week. Amazon founder and chairman Jeff Bezos attended the 2019 groundbreaking in Kentucky, driving a front loader to scoop and drop dirt at the site. The air hub opened in August of 2021.

Amazon is one of the largest employers in the world and claims it has created more jobs over the past decade than any U.S. company.

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