On the Picket Line

Workers rally for a union at Amazon Air Hub in Kentucky

By Ned Measel
April 3, 2023

FLORENCE, Ky. — “Who has the power? We have the power! What kind of power? Union power!” was one of the main chants by some 65 union supporters rallying March 18 outside the large and growing Amazon Air Hub at Northern Kentucky CVG Airport. They were joined by 20 Amazon workers who marched out of the parking lot after their shift.

Other Amazon workers on their way to or from work blew their horns in support, as did drivers on the street. An Amazon Prime truck driver laid on the horn and another driver shouted, “Iron Workers 44 supports you!”

Griffin Ritze, a worker at the airfreight hub and one of the union organizers, spoke to the media at the rally, as did Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union at the JFK8 Amazon Fulfillment Center in Staten Island, N.Y.

Amazon has warned workers not to speak to any “third party,” by which they mean the union organizers. One worker said, “We’re not a ‘third party,’ we’re the workers. We load the planes and sort the items. Management doesn’t make the place work. We do.”

The demands of the union supporters are for a $30-an-hour starting wage, 180 hours of paid time off annually and union representation at disciplinary meetings.

“We’re working to live, not living to work,” Ritze said. “This is going to be a good union job with a fighting union.”

He said this is what workers call the “firing season.” After the holiday rush Amazon bosses push to trim the workforce. With a fight, they’ve won some jobs back. “We have to act like a union before we can win the union.”

Union organizers have tables set up outside the airfreight hub facilities to collect union-authorization cards. The company says they present a safety hazard. “But it’s protected activity like our rally just now,” Ritze said.

Other speakers at the rally included Brian Griffin, executive secretary-treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO labor council, and Ed Clarke, who was fired from Amazon in January for what many workers believe was his support for the union.

Contributions to the union-organizing effort announced at the rally came from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 212, Iron Workers Local 44 and Laborers Local 265.

“Support from other unions is crucial,” Ritze said. “The labor movement has to make our struggle their struggle.”

Amazon’s airfreight hub is still expanding. With over 2,000 workers, and at only about a quarter of its projected size, it already handles some 30% of Amazon’s airfreight. Upon completion it’s projected to be the largest airfreight hub in the world.