Amazon Goes into Union-Busting Overdrive to Fight Campaign at KCVG Air Hub
Our union campaign at Amazon’s “superhub” air cargo center, KCVG in Northern Kentucky, is taking off. And not surprisingly that’s prompting the company to go into union-busting overdrive.
In the last two months of 2023, we’ve organized three marches on the boss—demanding translation rights for workers who are English language learners, and also challenging the company when they gave out “final written warnings” to 11 of us for union tabling activities, even though they were outside of work areas.
The video of our first march on the boss got over 5 million views on Tik Tok. We’re signing up new union members every day, our organizing committees are growing, and our co-workers are wearing buttons that say, “We need $30/hr,” “WE ARE THE UNION,” and “Union Busters Get Out.”
Workers are appalled that the company made nearly $10 billion in profits—off of our labor—in just the three months ending in September. Meanwhile, we are struggling all of the time to keep afloat. Every week workers—especially those of us with kids—are questioning: “What bills can I pay this week? Which ones do I have to put off? How much food can we have in the house? Or, am I going to be running the car on empty all week if I buy too much food?”
This is no way to live, and that’s why we are determined to fight for our union. The core demands of the Amazon Labor Union at KCVG are $30 an hour starting pay, 180 hours of paid time off, union representation at disciplinary meetings, and translation for workers who need it.
With all this stepped-up union activity, it’s no surprise that Amazon also has ramped up its union-busting efforts. This $1.5 billion facility is a flagship for Amazon—it’s the company’s biggest air hub.
Amazon managers have posted anti-union messages on TV screens that everyone sees when they go into and out of work. They regularly send us anti-union messages on the company internal text communications network. They’ve posted anti-union leaflets inside bathroom stalls, just like they did during the organizing campaign at the Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center. And they are conducting anti-union “captive audience” meetings and cornering workers on the floor.
This is all typical anti-union boss activity, and any worker who’s been involved in organizing probably recognizes it. But what’s different for us is that rather than bring in union-busting lawyers to coach and teach managers, Amazon has hired a number of these busters directly as managers. So we’re seeing high-priced corporate lawyers walking the floors in work boots and hi-viz vests.
We confront these fake managers and we have been educating our 4,000 co-workers about who they really are, through one-on-one conversations and by handing out leaflets that show the busters’ work histories and how many big fancy mansions they own.
For instance, Amazon hired Todd Nierman as a manager, to run captive audience meetings. Nierman is trying his best to blend in to the workforce, but we know he’s a former attorney with Littler Mendelson, the world’s largest employer-side law firm with more than 1,000 lawyers and the primary firm behind Starbucks’ vicious anti-union campaign.
Another big-shot lawyer posing as a manager is Charles Lee, who used to work with the notorious union-busting firm Jackson Lewis, and who also represented Caesars Entertainment Corporation in their fights against the Culinary workers union in Las Vegas.
Why would Amazon hire these fat cat lawyers as managers? Because they are scared to see the growing power of our union and the growing confidence that we and our co-workers are showing with our buttons, our tabling, and our marches on the boss.
BUILDING OUR ORGANIZING COMMITTEES
A big part of our work also has involved building the structure of our union. We have multiple organizing committees throughout KCVG. These are the groups of union activists who are involved daily in reaching out to, educating, and involving co-workers. The committees meet regularly and democratically vote on decisions that need to be made, because that’s the best way to demonstrate to ourselves and new activists that the union is us, not some third-party as the union-busting lawyers claim.
We have to make sure that our organizing committees are representative of the workforce overall. So we’ve created wall charts of the entire workplace, showing who works in the different work areas, their work schedules and shifts, and whether they’ve signed a card or union petition. In this way we can see which work areas have good union coverage, and which areas we most need to grow in. How’s our Ramp work going? Do we need more activists on the night shift? In the Sort building, how is the outreach going on the dock? In Amazon Robotics? In the huge “Fingers” ground floor? And so on.
We also are building support in the community, especially in the immigrant communities in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. There is a large African population in the area, with an especially active Congolese community. Kentucky has the second largest Congolese population per capita out of any state in the country. We’ve been reaching out to community members and inviting them to join our organizing committees. Some work at KCVG, but others don’t. We want them all involved, because we know that community members, even if they don’t work at KCVG themselves, have relationships with friends and neighbors who work with us.
Workers and community members come into our tiny union office and look at the various wall charts, coming up with new outreach ideas and taking assignments for who they are going to follow up with. In this way we are building our union, one conversation at a time. Many of these conversations take place in workplace break rooms, and others occur at the union tables we regularly set up outside work.
In recent weeks, we’ve expanded this organizing into the community. Members of our organizing team have held meetings inside local grocery stores that are frequented by immigrant community members, and we’ve also held meetings in churches and mosques.
As an independent union, we’ve been reaching out to other unions in the area for support, and we’ve received generous contributions from local unions including the Ironworkers and Electricians. Many of our co-workers have also been regularly attending the Teamsters Local 100 picket line across the street from us at KCVG, supporting the brave DHL workers who waged a 12-day strike for a first contract.
As 2024 gets underway, we’re going to be advancing our union drive. We know that beating Amazon and its army of union-busters won’t be easy. But we are excited that everything we’ve done up until now has laid the foundation for a strong fight for our union at KCVG.
Josh Crowell and Tamara Dowell work in the Sort building at Amazon KCVG.