The largest Amazon Air Hub in the world can process over a million packages per day and has over 2,000 full-time employees.
Now, workers at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport location in Hebron are demanding better pay and labor conditions as they push for a union.
"This is a workplace that's managed by fear, anxiety, and rumors," Griffin Ritze, 33, told the Enquirer. He's a truck driver for Amazon at the hub; the resident of Cincinnati's Westwood neighborhood is one of the people leading the charge for a union.
Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG was founded in early November by a group of about two dozen employees. Workers are demanding a $30-an-hour starting wage, 180 hours of paid time off annually with no cap on accrued time, and union representation against discipline.
'It was insulting.' A tipping point for workers?
Ritze says two things sparked the call for a union: disappointing cost-of-living pay raises in October and no holiday pay.
Last year, workers received a $2 per hour raise as compensation for working mandatory overtime to meet high demand throughout the holiday season. But managers told workers holiday pay might not happen this year.
Almost 400 workers signed a petition demanding the raise but still have not gotten the pay increase.
The announcement was right on the heels of a disappointing pay raise. Tier 1 employees, like Ritze, got a 50-cent per hour raise and roughly another 10 cents per hour for every six months employees have been with the company.
"It was insulting," Ritze said.
At Amazon, workers can take paid time off on-demand and Ritze says dozens of people took vacation following the raise announcements.
Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis said in a statement, “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.”
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.
The company says employees who work in customer fulfillment and transportation earn between $16 to $26 per hour, depending on the job and location, and are given health benefits.
Amazon worker: 'We're not going to lie to them.'
Amazon's first union was created earlier this year in New York's Staten Island. It was led by Chris Smalls, who was fired from the company after organizing a walk-out for safer COVID-19 protocols. He's now the co-founder and interim president of the Amazon Labor Union.
There have been other efforts to unionize throughout New York state, Alabama, Delaware and other states, though none have been successful.
Ritze says he has been on Zoom calls with Smalls in the past and the local union push is using the best practices from other union efforts across the country.
But he says employees are facing union busting from Amazon. Some of the accusations are being posted on the group's TikTok Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG.
For instance, in one video, workers share a screenshot that's allegedly from the company. It warns workers that sharing their personal information with co-workers may result in being contacted outside of work hours by a third oarty.
@amazonunionkcvg Sign up today and pledge for the union! Tinyurl.com/amazonunionkcvg #UnionizeAmazon ♬ original sound - Amazon Union Northern KY KCVG
"It's a lie to intimidate and to try to confuse workers about efforts like this in the workplace," Ritze said.
The workers say the contact information will only be used to tell people about union issues, which is the organizers' biggest goal right now.
"We're going to be honest with our co-workers about what we're doing. We're not going to lie to them about what this is all about," he said.
This week, a federal district judge in New York ordered Amazon to cease and desist from retaliating against employees for engaging in protected activities, which includes union organizing. According to the National Labor Relations Board, Amazon could be found in contempt of court if it violates the order.
What happens next?
Ritze says an organizing committee of about 10 people is busy recruiting more people to learn about the union.
"We're just really expanding that larger group around us right now ‒ across the different shifts and everything," he said.
There are currently no national unions taking the local effort under their wing.
The NLRB will conduct an election if at least 30% of workers sign cards or a petition saying they want a union. Then, if the majority of people vote in favor of a union, collective bargaining can begin. Alternatively, a workplace may voluntarily recognize a union.
There is not a set date for a union vote locally.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Amazon: Union working to organize at at largest air hub, based in NKY