Amazon air hub workers launch campaign to form union

A group of workers who handle planes and packages at Amazon’s national air hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) are trying to unionize the facility, demanding $30 per hour in starting wages and other benefits.

The organizing committee says it is looking to affiliate with one of the national unions trying to organize workers at the giant online retailer, which has a history of aggressively combating efforts to form unions at its fulfillment centers. 

The disgruntled airport workers are also calling for 180 hours of paid time off, without a cap on accrued time, union representation at disciplinary meetings and more flexible working conditions. They argue inflation has made it difficult to make ends meet and that management selectively enforces workplace rules to intimidate employees. Other demands revolve around seniority, transparency and safety.

“We’re working to live, not living to work. Amazon’s annual turnover rate is 150% because we’re running ground support equipment (GSE), supervising planeside operations and training our co-workers without a real pay incentive. We deserve to be paid for those responsibilities and have real time off for ourselves and our families,” said Steven Kelley, one of the group’s leaders, in a story on the Socialist Alternative website.

The Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG group has 25-50 members so far, according to local news outlets, but says 98 co-workers recently signed a petition supporting a union.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) opened its $1.5 billion air hub, where packages are sent on planes to cities across the country, in September 2021. The facility has 4,500 workers and capacity for 33 planes but can eventually be expanded to park up to 100 freighters. Amazon Air, the retailer’s in-house airline, has more than doubled its activity to more than 190 flights per day in the U.S. and Europe and operates 110 aircraft.

An Amazon worker belonging to the Unionize Amazon KCVG group said in a Twitter post that the top paid unionized workers at DHL Express’ nearby hub at CVG are paid $35.51 per hour. Starting pay at DHL’s facility is between $20 and $23 per hour, reports Cincinnati TV station WCPO.

The CVG hub, located in Hebron, Kentucky, processes a significant amount of freight in Amazon’s network and has the most workers of any facility in the U.S. Its central role as a distribution point for e-commerce shipments around the country could give organizers more leverage than at a local warehouse because a large chunk of Amazon’s logistics operation depends on reliable express air service.

Front-line workers have increasingly expressed frustration with Amazon since the start of the COVID pandemic, saying their sacrifices during difficult times should be rewarded with higher pay, more paid time off and more realistic productivity measurements. Amazon has successfully fended off labor organizing efforts for many years but has faced five union elections at warehouses in less than two years. Only one of those — a warehouse on Staten Island — won enough votes to form a union. In October, Amazon workers in California petitioned for their own vote to join the Amazon Labor Union.

On Friday, a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York ordered Amazon to stop firing warehouse workers involved in union organizing, and to stop interfering with, restraining or coercing employees exercising their legal right to unionize. The order applies nationwide.

In September, Amazon raised starting wages for front-line workers in the U.S. by $1, to $19 per hour. Pay can range from $16 to $26 per hour depending on the position and location.

The group trying to form a union at the CVG air hub says Amazon told workers they wouldn’t receive the traditional $2-per-hour “peak pay” incentive for extra work during the intense period for the holiday season. Members also called a 40-cents-per-hour cost-of-living increase across the company “insulting.” The frustration with pay levels is compounded by Amazon spending money on stock buybacks and founder Jeff Bezos being one of the richest individuals in the world.

Amazon’s CVG airport workers also said management assigned workers a weekly mandatory overtime shift from Nov. 27 to Dec. 23 with only three weeks’ notice, leaving many workers scrambling to make alternative plans for child care, second jobs and schooling.

News outlet Cincinnati City Beat reports that Amazon is taking steps to discourage co-workers from joining the unionization campaign. Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG has already filed two labor complaints with the Department of Labor over alleged unfair labor practices by Amazon, according to WCPO.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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