NKY Amazon workers seek to unionize company’s largest air hub

Amazon workers protest for better wages and more
Published: Mar. 19, 2023 at 1:30 PM EDT
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HEBRON, KY (WXIX/CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) -Local organizers and Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky, KCVG, are joining forces with the national Amazon Labor Union to try to unionize Amazon workers at the company’s largest air hub.

Over 100 people were waving signs outside the air hub, demanding $30 per hour pay, more paid time off, and job security. They also started to collect union authorization cards that include employee signatures organizing an effort to unionize the campaign.

Former Amazon employee Rachel Carpenter spoke to FOX19 NOW’s Morgan Parrish about how she was recently let go from Amazon after an incident was reported saying she drove under a wing of an airplane and was told to stop, but she says it did not happen.

She says a manager asked her for her license plate number, and when she refused, she was let go from the company.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was beside myself. You just don’t approach somebody and say, ‘give me your license’,” Carpenter said.

Some people rallying tell FOX19 NOW that they have wrongful termination suits filed against the company.

“I was terminated because I was actually taking an associate who had an invested interest and wanted to learn how to be a load planner. I was told that the associate was an untrained associate. He should not have been looking at my laptop,” Edward Clark of College Hill said. “We leave our laptops open, management included 50 to 70 times a day. I was terminated because they said I left my laptop open, yet I have no termination letter, so therefore, I am out here to support these efforts today, and we do have cases filed against them in that regards.”

Our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer say that Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, spoke to the crowd. Smalls was fired from Amazon for his unionization efforts, he says. In an email, Amazon officials deny the allegation 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.

Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis stated in an email to the Enquirer that 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.

The workers then walked from the Amazon hub to the public, wearing their uniforms and launching into speeches.

“So, what we’re 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 stated 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.

In a statement to the Enquirer, Amazon officials said, “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 in late 2022 by 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 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 - must sign a union authorization card before a vote can happen at the workplace.

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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