Socialist Alternative

Union Drive Digs In At Amazon’s “Death Star”

Published on

Nestled in the hills of Northern Kentucky, high above the Ohio River, towers one of Amazon’s most crucial investments: the KCVG Air Hub. The $1.5 billion facility opened its doors just a few years ago, destined to become the cornerstone of Amazon’s plan for optimizing next-day package delivery. The company is increasingly scheduling air freight around a few key hubs across the US, and the strategically-located CVG airport sees by far the most Amazon traffic. 39.2% of mainland Amazon Air flights come in and out of CVG, and they’re just getting started.

The 4000 workers who keep this machine running are a cross section of American society: Kentucky farmers, Congolese immigrants, parents, students, ex-retirees. Amazon raked in $30.4 billion in profits last year. One thing these workers all have in common is the cut they’re not getting from Bezos’ bottom line. Most of them are mad about it. And a lot of KCVG workers – far more than Amazon would like – are getting organized, joining the union and fighting back.

Amazon is out of control, and it’s the task of the workers’ movement to subdue it. In fact, it’s an imperative. The labor movement is on the rise, but it’s not inevitable that this will simply continue. The bosses, their backs against the wall, are going all out to destroy the momentum of workers. The best defense is a good offense: the labor movement must urgently organize large sections of the economy, and Amazon is one of the biggest beasts to take down. That’s why this union drive at KCVG is one of the most important in the country. It’s also why Amazon is fighting back harder than ever before.

We talked with KCVG workers Jordan Quinn, Marcio Rodriguez and Parker Anderson about how they’ve built this union and where it’s headed.

Amazon workers are atomized, burned out, high-turnover, and just busy as hell. What have been the most effective ways to harness the anger and frustration of your coworkers and build this union?

JQ: A key thing is to organize around concrete issues in the workplace and to pose a solution by organizing around bold demands. We’ve been organizing around $30 an hour, 180 hours of paid time off a year, translation rights for immigrant coworkers, childcare, and more. This is an important motivation for people to overcome all the obstacles that the bosses put in our way from organizing.

PA: One-on-one conversations about problems on the floor are crucial – we’re understaffed on fingers, we’re understaffed in dock, firing season just happened and there’s too much freight. Being able to connect directly to the issues we’re all facing is what allows us to point to the need for change.

JQ: We’ve also organized actions: we led a march on the boss, with 40 coworkers and community members, demanding professional on-site translators and free on-site English classes to make sure that language is not a safety hazard. We also led marches on the boss against illegal union busting which now the government is taking Amazon to court for.

Language barrier is a real challenge to organizing this workplace. How has the union built support among immigrant workers? Why is this work so crucial?

MR: We have people coming from all around the world, from different backgrounds, speaking different languages. When they come here they’re looking for a job, and it’s important for them to be trained in their language, to understand their job responsibilities and what benefits they have. Right now that’s something that’s not happening at KCVG, and there’s no excuse.

One way we’ve built support is with our translation petition. We want Amazon to have on-site paid translators, for workers to be trained in their language. That’s something that they deserve, that would show that Amazon actually respects them. I myself, as an immigrant, don’t want to see my people getting taken advantage of anymore.

We’ve also built support talking to community leaders, going to mosques, to churches – and we’re reaching people, people are coming up and talking to us about it at work.

Why does Amazon see this union as such a serious threat? Can you describe some of these next-level union busting tactics and how you’re fighting back?

MR: Amazon is one of the most ruthless anti-union corporations in the world and it’s because they know that with a union they will have to pay us better. Power is the one thing they care about – if they lose their power, we’re just gonna keep asking for more.

JQ: Amazon is using illegal tactics to intimidate coworkers from joining the union. They threaten our benefits, and they get away with a lot more with immigrant coworkers. They’ve hired millionaire lawyers to dress up like managers and lead captive audience meetings. They’ve got an army of visiting managers who build friendly rapport with workers and use what they say against the union. 

MR: Just today we had brand new security here at KCVG! They parked their vehicle right in front of where we were doing our table with flashing lights, and we confronted them about it. Said what you’re doing here is intimidation. You guys need to leave. And we saw them actually step away. When we stand up to them, we see that we can get what we actually want.

JQ: We filed over three dozen unfair labor practice charges against Amazon, now the NLRB has ruled in our favor on nine of them. Amazon will try and defend themselves at the hearing in April, saying the NLRB does not apply to them. We’re very heartened by the decision, but we also know the courts take time and that ultimately no NLRB decision will grant us a contract – that’s something that we have to organize for ourselves.

Strikes and organizing drives are happening right in our backyard in Kentucky. How has this impacted your union campaign?

PA: The Teamsters just organized ramp and tug workers at the DHL CVG World Hub right across the street from us and won a breakthrough contract. When they went on strike last year, we were out there on their picket lines. They went from 70 planes flying out to 3, and they extended picket lines to DHL facilities nationwide – in Miami, in Chicago, in Portland. 

Their win was huge for our union campaign. It proves that building a union is possible – we’re seeing it right across the street, we’re having meetings with them, we’re learning lessons and building towards doing the exact same thing.

It also helps counter union busting arguments. Amazon likes to tell coworkers that with a union, you could lose your benefits. When I say that DHL workers won free healthcare across the street, that just proves them to be liars.

You’ve been building an independent union for over a year now. How does the broader labor movement fit into your plan to win?

JQ: We’ve had solidarity resolutions passed and donations from over a dozen unions, including the international ATU. And we’re building closer ties with other unions in the logistics industry. A few weeks ago, we invited the DHL Teamsters to lead a meeting, and over 50 coworkers came out to hear the lessons from their inspiring strike and contract win.

We’re also hosting trainings with Teamsters from Local 89 which organizes at the UPS Worldport down in Louisville. Uniting logistic workers across unions is going to be crucial for rebuilding a fighting labor movement, where we can put our heads together as we prepare to take action around our demands.

Amazon workers across the country need to work together too. We have key leverage on Prime Day in summer, during peak season in the winter. Taking united action – marches on the boss, walkouts, or strikes – that’s gonna be crucial for instilling confidence in our coworkers and putting Amazon on notice.

Last year we proved that we’re a union by organizing around our demands and taking action. We just finished officially establishing our union with our union constitution. Now we’re preparing for a fight for recognition and a contract, and that will be primarily won through a strike. Key to this is building stronger relationships with other unionized workers in our industry, like the Teamsters, to bring the weight of the entire labor movement to bear on Amazon. Ultimately for us to win, we can’t just fight at one facility – we need to organize this whole company.

Latest articles


Seize The Moment: Organize The South!

On April 19, hundreds of autoworkers gathered in Chattanooga, Tennessee for a watch party of Volkswagen’s union election. This was the first vote to...

UAW’s April 19 Vote At Volkswagen In Chattanooga Will Set Tone For Unions In 2024

Across the nation, workers are talking about the United Autoworkers Union (UAW), its contract victory, and the approach of its new militant leadership. That...

Grad Student Unions Are Setting A New Pace In Higher Ed

by Amzi Jeffs, former Head Steward for UAW 4121 representing academic workers at University of Washington (personal capacity). 2023 saw a major upsurge in graduate...

Game Industry Workers Need A Union

A brutal wave of layoffs has hit workers in the video game industry. Last year saw a 700% increase in layoffs compared to 2022...