Workers at Amazon’s largest air hub in the world push to form a union

Employees at the company’s hub outside Cincinnati Northern Kentucky international airport are now mobilizing

Amazon workers at the air hub outside the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky international airport, Amazon’s largest air hub in the world, are pushing to organize a union in the latest effort to mobilize workers at the tech company.

Workers say they are dissatisfied with annual wage increases this year. About 400 of them have signed a petition to reinstate a premium hourly pay for Amazon’s peak season that hasn’t been enacted at the site yet. Their main demands also include a $30 an hour starting wage, 180 hours of paid time off and union representation at disciplinary hearings.

“We have to operate a lot of heavy machinery, freight loaders, cargo tractors and things like that, and people aren’t paid any extra to do that work,” said Griffin Ritze, an air associate and ramp agent at the Amazon air hub, and a member of the organizing committee. “They just cross-train you in as many roles as possible and you’re constantly shuffled around.”

About 4,500 workers are employed at the expanding air hub in Kentucky. Those organizing have already filed two unfair labor practice charges over Amazon’s response to the unionization effort, which has included anti-union talking points on televisions and its communications system for employees that characterize the effort as a third-party scheme.

“We’re the lifeblood of the company, not corporate, not upper management. We’re actually the ones who are sorting the freight, and loading the freight,” said Jordan Martin, a ramp associate at the air hub. “It’s the lifeblood of the company, the workers, who are actually organizing this effort and why we’re pushing for the better benefits that we’re trying to fight for.”

Organizing efforts at Amazon have spread beyond the JFK8 Staten Island, New York, warehouse, where workers won the first union election at an Amazon site in the US in April 2022. But they have yet to repeat the success.

Amazon has aggressively opposed additional efforts while contesting the union election results at the Staten Island location. Those results have yet to be certified as Amazon is trying to overturn the election. Most recently, the company appealed against a ruling dismissing their objections to the election.

Weeks after the JFK8 victory, the independent Amazon Labor Union lost a union election at the nearby LDJ5 warehouse on Staten Island. It lost another union election at a warehouse outside Albany, New York, in October 2022.

Shortly after, the Amazon Labor Union pulled an election petition at a warehouse in Moreno Valley, California, but asserted plans to refile soon.

Employees at an Amazon warehouse outside Raleigh, North Carolina, are now collecting union authorization signatures in hopes of filing for an election by this summer. The Retail Wholesale Department Store Union is still waiting for a ruling on objections that were filed during an election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, a rerun of a 2021 union election in which the company’s conduct was ruled to be illegal.

At other Amazon warehouses in Georgia, Minnesota, Illinois and California, workers have organized strikes and petitions to push the company to increase wages and improve working conditions.

Steven Kelley, a learning ambassador at the Kentucky air hub, explained that most workers were paid less than $20 an hour. He said the pay wasn’t commensurate with the dangerous work the workers perform, in a location where employee turnover was about 150%, with a constant training of workers who wind up quitting. He also said the disciplinary procedures at Amazon weren’t transparent or communicated well enough.

“We do not have any clue that we are written up and never notified about it until we go to apply for a better position, that’s when we’ll find out,” said Kelley.

He explained that workers weren’t paid enough to live without roommates and made less than other workers in transportation and logistics because they were classified as retail employees.

“We can’t afford to live by ourselves and be able to survive, so we need a union to help get that point across to Amazon and to have a clear set of disciplinary structures,” Kelley added.

A spokesperson for Amazon said: “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”

Contributor

Michael Sainato

The GuardianTramp

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