Amazon workers at Kentucky air hub go public with organizing drive
Courtesy of Unionize Amazon

CINCINNATI-NORTHERN KENTUCKY INTL. AIRPORT—Workers at Amazon’s biggest U.S. air hub, an 800,000-square-foot heavily robotized warehouse at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, have gone public—and national—with an organizing campaign allied with the independent grass-roots Amazon Labor Union.

In their kickoff rally on March 18 at the KCVG hub, set goals of $30/hour starting wages, 180 hours of paid time off annually, and union representation—what are called Weingarten rights—when bosses threaten discipline.

But working conditions may play a big role, too, Kentucky organizer Matt Littrell, who toils at the Campbellsville warehouse in the western end of the state, said in a recent telephone interview with People’s World.

That’s because, besides line speed-ups and forcing workers to stand outside in the summer heat until their scheduled shift started, Amazon didn’t warn workers of a tornado threat last year at Campbellsville.

Last year a line of twisters roared through Kentucky, southern Illinois, Missouri, and Alabama. At least two Amazon warehouses were demolished, one in Illinois and the other in Maysville, Ky.

“It nearly hit our warehouse and none of the new hires knew where to go,” Littrell says. “They couldn’t hear the PA system and there weren’t any phones. They didn’t know where to shelter in place. There was a two-to-three-hour lockdown.

“That was the beginning of my organizing.”

Now Littrell’s Cincy colleagues have gone public, with a March 18 press conference outside the monster KCVG warehouse at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport.

If they, and the Amazon Labor Union, win their campaign for a National Labor Relations Board-run representation election and for a subsequent union authorization vote, KCVG would be the second big Amazon warehouse ALU has unionized so far, despite the expensive union-busting drive directed by Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s owner and among the nation’s richest oligarchs.

The first success was at JFK1 on Staten Island, the home warehouse of ALU co-founders, including Chris Smalls, who addressed the crowd in front of the airport warehouse.

“What we’re fighting for today is not just $30 an hour, not just job security, not just for this building. We’re fighting for our future, our children. When you guys are victorious, you’re gonna have so much power that the world is going to stop,” Smalls said.

Company labor law-breaking has stopped ALU at other warehouses so far, notably in Albany, N.Y., and a smaller Staten Island facility. It hasn’t deterred the KCVG organizers or Matt Littrell in Campbellsville. It just slowed the organizing campaign, as workers had to deal with arbitrary discipline and firings, he said.

Littrell, who was “fired in retaliation last August for my organizing efforts,” said the NLRB plans a trial on such labor law-breaking—formally called unfair labor practices—“soon.” The goal of the Campbellsville organizers: “We’re going for an injunction” against such law-breaking.

Amazon’s retaliation against Campbellsville organizers began in April 2021, he elaborated. “We were consistently being written up” even before ALU’s JFK1 win. “All of the writeups were stuff that never made any f—ing sense.”

Afterwards, “They started getting tough on security and upped their surveillance capabilities” at Campbellsville. There were also writeups for misbehavior, namely “too much time off task,” which Amazon measures with barcode scanners.

The time off task, Littrell added “was because of working conditions they didn’t fix.”

“They’re going to fire all 10 of us,” Littrell said. “They knew I was going to fight like hell, so they came after me. Every time they did, I’d file another unfair labor practices charge.”

Amazon’s favorite method of punishing pro-union workers, he said, was constant shifts and frequent increases in production rates. At times, they required a rate of 100 units an hour of merchandise.

To make working there even worse, Amazon mandated all workers wear heavy carbon-toe or steel-toe protective shoes, giving OSHA regulations as an excuse. “The shoes weigh quite a lot and slow us down tremendously unless we can get an accommodation.” If the workers can’t achieve that, it takes a physical toll on their feet and knees, he said.

The KCVG organizers at the bigger warehouse are shooting for getting a majority of the eligible workers—Amazon says the warehouse employs 2,000 people—to sign NLRB union election authorization cards.

Over at Campbellsville, Amazon tried to stuff the proposed bargaining unit with new hires and union foes, a common employer tactic to thwart organizing campaigns. Littrell estimates his warehouse employs about 1,000 workers.

That led to another Amazon rule at Campbellsville: A ban on workers coming to the warehouse a little too early or lingering and leaving a little too late. Amazon figured the extra time was used for talking union. So “instead, they expected people to meet outside in the heat.”

We hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, please support great working-class and pro-people journalism by donating to People’s World.

We are not neutral. Our mission is to be a voice for truth, democracy, the environment, and socialism. We believe in people before profits. So, we take sides. Yours!

We are part of the pro-democracy media contesting the vast right-wing media propaganda ecosystem brainwashing tens of millions and putting democracy at risk.

Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader supported. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all.

But we need your help. It takes money—a lot of it—to produce and cover unique stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.