Skip to content Skip to footer

Kentucky Workers Fight for a Union at Amazon’s Biggest Air Hub

It’s now firing season at Amazon, and no worker is safe without a union.

In Kentucky, workers organizing for a union at Amazon's biggest air hub are demanding the rehire of fired activists.

I work as a tug driver at Amazon’s global air hub in Northern Kentucky (KCVG). My co-workers and I are taking on one of the largest corporations in the world to get what we deserve.

Our main demands are for a $30-an-hour starting wage, 180 hours a year of paid time off, and union representation at disciplinary meetings to end favoritism and retaliation.

This $1.5 billion facility is a flagship for Amazon — it’s the company’s biggest air hub. Jeff Bezos personally broke ground on it in 2019.

Earlier this month, night shift workers faced a double crisis when a transformer exploded in the middle of a tornado warning with wind speeds above 45 miles per hour. Amazon was forcing them to work through high wind speeds, with management periodically calling ground stops throughout the shift.

Then, after the fire alarm went off, hundreds of workers had to evacuate the building despite the tornado warning. Workers were screaming and crying, thinking they were either going to die in a fire or potentially face a tornado outside.

One co-worker told me that all she could think of was the tornado at an Amazon facility in Illinois in 2021, where six workers were killed in a catastrophic building collapse after Amazon refused to shut down the facility.

These are the stakes for Amazon workers — it’s either our lives or Amazon’s profits. Enough is enough! We are going to fight to have a decent living and real power in our workplace with a union. I am proud to be a member of the organizing committee for Unionize Amazon KCVG.

Fighting For The Peak Pay We Deserve

The organizing at the Kentucky cargo center began in the fall. Last October, while inflation soared and our paychecks were stretched even thinner, KCVG management rounded us up for an all-hands meeting at 5:00 in the morning, where they announced an insulting $0.60-an-hour “cost of living adjustment” raise.

This felt like a slap in the face, after months of rumors of a $1-$2 raise for the peak holiday season — an expected temporary pay bump that workers plan for and rely on during the busiest time of the year. The previous year we had received a $2-an-hour bonus during peak season from mid-October to January .

Dozens of my co-workers stormed out of the meeting and over half of my department left work before the day even started. One of my co-workers said he was so angry that he couldn’t even bring himself to look at anyone in management.

It was clear to many of us that everything was on the chopping block. Amazon was not going to give us anything unless we got organized.

The next day, a few co-workers and I began circulating a petition to reinstate peak pay. Within weeks we gathered hundreds of signatures. Dozens of our co-workers wore stickers at work that read, “We deserve a real raise — bring back peak pay and make it a permanent raise.”

We delivered our petition to management on October 24 in a morning stand-up meeting with hundreds of our co-workers watching. Management refused to respond to us as a group. By that point, it was clear we needed a union.

Our organizing committee began drafting demands at weekly meetings. On November 10, we voted to go public as an independent group of workers seeking a union at KCVG.

Since then, we have openly distributed our campaign material at shift changes. We’ve held dozens of meetings and training sessions to get co-workers involved. And now we’re preparing to take our union drive to the next stage on March 18.

Defending Jobs During Firing Season

It’s now firing season at Amazon, and no worker is safe without a union. From January to March, Amazon fires thousands of workers company-wide on minor infractions to cut costs after the peak season.

At KCVG, 150 workers have been fired since the first of this year. That’s an average of two workers every day losing their livelihood and being humiliated. They are walked off the job by management and security as if they’re being arrested.

On January 17 Amazon fired Edward Clarke, a respected co-worker and a member of our organizing committee. Ed is a load planner — it’s his job to balance the weights and loads on Amazon’s planes to ensure that flights depart and arrive safely.

If we had a union today, Ed would be a shop steward. He is not a “yes man” who will go along with whatever management says. He has always pushed back on management whenever they tried to cut corners, work people through their breaks, and treat us unfairly. Amazon knew that Ed became a real threat when he got involved in our campaign, and that’s why they fired him.

But when Amazon goes on the offensive, we fight back twice as hard.

By last month, we had raised over $23,000 to rent an office near the air hub and begin organizing a job defense campaign for five workers at KCVG who were caught in the crossfire of Amazon’s union-busting and ruthless firing season. This would not have been possible without support from unions and working people outside of Amazon who have donated to our campaign.

Building a Worker-led Union

A union-busting campaign is a war on the truth. Amazon has created a toxic workplace culture; management uses a monstrous rumor mill against anyone who challenges its authority.

In our job defense campaign we are demonstrating what it means to be a union in the workplace, and what we mean when we say solidarity.

To have a fighting chance against Amazon, we believe the only way is to build a team of co-workers who discuss strategy and demands, and who lead the day-to-day activity of the union drive ourselves. This means recruiting active support from co-workers from every shift, job description, background, gender, race, ethnicity, and language group in our workplace.

Even with union support at record highs in the U.S., many workers still need to be convinced to join a union — including those who had a bad experience in a previous union job, and the many young workers who simply don’t know what a union is.

It’s our responsibility to show our co-workers what a union is by making bold, concrete demands and fighting back against retaliation. We use our demands to demonstrate to our co-workers what we stand to gain — not just “a seat at the table,” but safety at work and a quality standard of living. Our demands are front and center in everything we do, even our logo!

We have been under heavy fire from Amazon management at KCVG since Edward Clarke was fired on January 17 — but our activity has been contagious among our co-workers.

When we were hit with a heavy snowstorm months ago, entire plane-side crews of workers refused to move freight and work around the planes, and sat down in the break rooms until the end of their shift.

When workers spotted a bedbug outbreak in their crew van, they were told they would be sent home without pay. But they took action: they sat down outside the Human Resources office until they got their day’s pay.

When management went after the cargo tractor drivers in my department for “time theft,” a co-worker of mine printed vinyl target stickers for us to wear on our backs, to show management that we were not going to back off for fear of losing our jobs.

We are prepared to do whatever it takes to win a union at KCVG and help rebuild a fighting labor movement.

Launch Rally on March 18

We’re holding a rally on March 18 at the KCVG facility to launch the next phase of our campaign.

For the last week and a half, my co-workers and I have been distributing flyers at the break room and outside the facility after work. We’re doing standouts multiple times a week, phonebanking, and texting every worker we know. Yard signs and banners advertising the rally and our demands now line the streets outside the air hub.

If you live in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area and support our fight for a union, please attend our rally, and consider donating to our effort. When we win, union workers are going to handle every Amazon package that moves through KCVG.

Griffin Ritze is a tug driver at the air hub. This article was adapted from remarks at the Workers Strike Back launch event in Seattle.

This article was originally published at Labor Notes.

Tired of reading the same old news from the same old sources?

So are we! That’s why we’re on a mission to shake things up and bring you the stories and perspectives that often go untold in mainstream media. But being a radically, unapologetically independent news site isn’t easy (or cheap), and we rely on reader support to keep the lights on.

If you like what you’re reading, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today. We’re not asking for a handout, we’re asking for an investment: Invest in a nonprofit news site that’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, not afraid to stand up for what’s right, and not afraid to tell it like it is.