Correction: A previous version misidentified Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis. The error has been corrected. (Nov. 21, 2023)
HEBRON, Ky. — Some workers at the Amazon Air hub in northern Kentucky say they’ve been intimidated not to unionize. For more than a year now, workers have been trying to organize, calling for higher wages and better working conditions.
They say those efforts have been met with a lot of resistance.
Jordan Quinn is an employee at the air hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (KCVG). He helps process all the packages that constantly come in and out. But he says it’s been difficult to process the way he thinks one of the biggest companies in the world treats its employees.
“When people experience how hard we have to work, and how we don’t get paid enough, how we don’t get enough time off, and how we don’t get enough benefits, then Amazon will try and find a way to fire people for any reason,” Quinn said.
When Quinn started at the air hub in May, he started hearing about the efforts to form a labor union and decided to get involved.
The group is calling for $30 an hour starting pay. The current starting wage for workers at KCVG is up to $21.00 per hour. The $9 increase would pay workers just over four times Kentucky’s current minimum wage rate of $7.25 an hour.
The group also wants 180 hours of paid time off, representation at disciplinary meetings, safer working conditions and better translation services for employees who speak English as their second language, as explained by union organizer Marcio Rodriguez.
“They refuse to give them training in their language, translation for HR in their language, or any type of translation with HR disciplinary matters,” Rodriguez said. “We need to communicate in this job. It’s very dangerous. We’re dealing with airplanes. We’re loading these cans that weigh thousands of pounds, where if you mis-communicate one thing, you could get crushed by it, get hurt or even killed. There’s no reason. Somebody’s going to get hurt. These people aren’t getting trained properly, and they’re going to hurt their coworkers, or they’re going to hurt themselves. And nobody comes to work to get hurt.”
The group needs 30% of the workforce to sign up to get an election for a union. Quinn said over 1,000 employees have signed up. While Quinn told Spectrum News 1 there are 4,000 to 4,500 employees at the air hub, Amazon told Spectrum News 1 the air hub has 2,000 full-time employees.
Quinn said the efforts to unionize them have been stifled.
“We know about co-workers getting intimidated by management, both at the union tables and on the floor,” Quinn said. “They’ve just been freaking out, to be honest. And I think we have them scared. Because they know we have momentum on our side.”
Quinn said management has enforced increased badge checks for employees involved in union efforts. He said they’ve been reprimanded by HR and had their jobs threatened for setting up union tables.
“It’s just ridiculous, blatant intimidation,” Quinn said. “Every worker has the right to protect a concerted activity under section seven of the national labor relations act. They’re violating that law. They know that they’re violating it. But Amazon’s not willing to put the law above crushing a union. Because they know if we get a union, they’re going to have to pay us more, and treat us better. That’s why they’re fighting so hard.”
Regarding the alleged intimidation, Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis sent Spectrum News 1 a statement, saying: “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. We favor opportunities for each person to be respected and valued as an individual, and to have their unique voice heard by working directly with our team. The fact is, amazon already offers what many unions are requesting: industry-leading pay, health benefits on day one, and opportunities for career growth. We look forward to working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”
According to Amazon, the company’s benefits include health, vision and dental insurance from day one; a 401(k) with 50% company match; up to 20 weeks paid leave, which includes 14 weeks of pregnancy-related disability leave plus six weeks of parental leave; Amazon’s Career Choice program, which pre-pays college tuition; and Amazon’s Resources for Living program, a free mental health benefit offering services and support for employees, their families and their households.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, about 25 employees marched to their manager’s office to deliver an unfair labor practice charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board against site leadership.
In response to the charge, Paradis said in another statement: “These allegations are without merit and we look forward to showing that through the legal process. Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union and we do not retaliate against employees for exercising their federally protected rights.”
Quinn said management told workers they’d speak to them individually, but not as a group.
“We know that Amazon is going to try to divide us. They’re going to try to isolate us. When we marched on the boss yesterday, management told us we all have unique individual concerns. And everyone started laughing. Because we came there as a group because we have the same concerns,” Quinn said. “We don’t get paid enough. We don’t get enough time off.”
He said he’s confident the group will eventually prevail in establishing a union to address those concerns. In the meantime, they’ll keep coming to work.
In March 2022, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island successfully formed the first Amazon union in the United States. Since then, efforts to unionize at other Amazon facilities, including KCVG, have been ramping up.