NKY Amazon unionization efforts heat up with demands for translation and higher wages

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Amazon KCVG workers still have a way to go in their unionization efforts, but they have no plans of slowing down anytime soon. 

The group made this clear at the Boone County Public Library on Sept. 23. A panel of speakers led a discussion and answered questions about the current status of the union and where they’re headed.

The speakers in attendance were Amazon KCVG workers Griffin Ritze, Ossok Titi, Rubí Gómez, and Braeden Pierce, president of the Congolese Community of Northern Kentucky Didier Diakandulu, and translator and community leader Fatou Souare. 

This meeting was held to update workers and community members of the state of the unionization process and restate the benefits of joining the union to their coworkers. They explained their demands and how workers and community members could support them. 

According to the Amazon Labor Union organization and their offshoot in Northern Kentucky, their demands are:

  • 180 hours of paid time off

The Unionize Amazon website says that workers “deserve to be paid for [their] responsibilities and have real time off for ourselves and our families.” 

Employees said they are concerned about creating and maintaining a healthy work-life balance and said they believe paid time off to be a part of that. Union organizers said that Amazon’s turnover rate is 150% (compared to the average U.S. turnover rate in 2023 of 3.8%), which they said can be attributed to poor working conditions and the company’s entitlement to their time. 

  • $30 an hour wages

“We’re the ones that do the work,” Gómez said at the meeting. “It’s our labor that makes this place function and make an insane amount of profit for them.” 

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Jeff Bezos, founder and executive chairman of Amazon, is currently the third wealthiest person in the world

Gómez and other workers present believe that the workers should share in some of that profit, especially considering the labor they contribute to the company. 

They’re pushing for $30 an hour because that was the rate fought for and won by the first Amazon warehouse to successfully unionize in Staten Island, New York. Additionally, the organizers at Amazon Labor Union have found that this rate is needed to combat inflation and the rising cost of living. 

  • More translation at work

Ossok Titi, an immigrant to the area, a French speaker, and a KCVG Amazon employee, spoke at the meeting about his personal interest in workplace unionizing. He spoke through a translator, Fatou Souare. 

“I am part of the union because the union will help us have a translator for all documents and a dedicated translator in the building, rather than pulling someone off the line to translate,” Titi said through Souare. 

He went on to explain that he has worked with several people who he believes were fired due to the language barrier. 

Currently, the workers said translation services at KCVG are done through a third-party company that is rarely on-site. Pierce, another KCVG Amazon worker, said this makes disciplinary meetings difficult for non-English speakers. 

“Management decides they’re not going to wait [for a translator to arrive],” Pierce said.  “They’re going to write you up whether you know why or not.”

Currently, 1,000 Amazon KCVG workers have signed a petition for more written and verbal translation in the workplace. 

Didier Diakandulu, president of the Congolese Community of Northern Kentucky, pledged his and his community’s support to the KCVG Amazon unionization efforts. 

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“The Congolese and the African community have given a lot to Amazon,” Diakandulu explained.

His organization believes that they deserve translation in the workplace so they can get the most out of these jobs as well. 

  • Union representatives at every disciplinary meeting

KCVG workers speaking at the event and attending in the audience spoke on the issues of favoritism at Amazon, as well as the hostile workplace they experience. 

“Talking to anybody above tier three is like talking to the enemy,” one worker said.

The union aims to resolve some of these issues by supporting workers in disciplinary meetings so they are not intimidated by management. 

“They fire a lot of people at this location for no good reason,” Ritze said.

So, how close are they to making these demands a reality?

According to the steps outlined by the National Labor Relations Board, the KCVG Amazon group is in the second step of starting a union. They have already declared their intention to start a union and have organized. Next, they need at least 30% of the workforce to sign unionization authorization cards to file a petition for a union election. 

Unionization authorization cards were available at the Sept. 23 meeting, and workers are often seen tabling outside of Amazon facilities, handing them out for coworkers to sign. However, Pierce and Ritze can’t give numbers on how far along they are in that process. 

“Our card count is something that we have to keep private from the company until we file for our union election,” Ritze said.  

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Pierce said it can be “dangerous to give out exact numbers.” 

They said that if Amazon were to know how close they are to that 30% figure, they would be at risk of the company “flooding the bargaining unit,” meaning that the company would hire a massive amount of seasonal employees to make that 30% more difficult to reach.

However, meeting organizers said numbers are less important than generating real, collaborative support for their fellow workers. Ritze, Pierce and Gómez, among other workers, said at the meeting that spreading correct information, speaking openly about the unionization efforts, and banding together goes a long way to creating a culture in which a union can succeed.

“The more people talking about unionizing on the shop floor, the more people are knowing their rights and not being afraid to assert them,” Ritze said. 

Still, they expect that even if they are able to get 30% of the workforce to sign the unionization authorization cards, the fight likely won’t end there. 

“We’re going to have to strike this company to get Amazon to the table. That’s unavoidable,” Ritze said. 

To get to that point, though, the organizers stressed the importance of community support. Several community members were present to show their support for the union, including Alex Berling, state representative candidate in Independence. 

Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis said that employees have the choice to join a union.

“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” Paradis said. “Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”

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