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DHL’s Biggest US Air Hub Votes to Unionize

Concluding an eventful April which saw the kickoff of contract negotiations with UPS and a successful union vote for California contract drivers who have delivered for Amazon, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters notched another victory .

A majority of DHL Express ramp and tug workers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) voted to join Teamsters Local 100 in Cincinnati, Ohio after a yearlong campaign for representation. The votes, collected over three days, were tallied Friday. Votes to join the Teamsters outnumbered those against by a margin of 505 to 287.

With the victory, more than 1,100 workers at the international express shipping giant have won representation by the union, whose memberships extend to 1.2 million freight drivers, warehouse workers and other laborers in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

The location of the unionization is significant because the airport in Erlanger, Ky. operates DHL’s only global air hub in the U.S. and its largest in North America. According to DHL, 80 percent of all shipments from the Americas flow through via the CVG hub, which handles 90 percent of the company’s U.S. volume.

The company also has two more global hubs at Hong Kong International Airport and Germany’s Leipzig/Halle Airport.

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Negotiations will begin for a first Teamster contract for DHL-CVG workers after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certifies the election.

“This was a long time coming!” said Steve Fightmaster, a ramp lead and committee member of DHL Workers United for Change. “We stood strong to become Teamsters and changed over 1,000 people’s lives for the better.”

Last August, the carrier raised hourly wages at the hub in a range of 15 percent to 18 percent, including a starting wage of $20 to $23 per hour for operations agents depending on the shift.

DHL Express did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The victory comes after the workers hosted a series of public rallies at CVG since March, most recently on April 14, demanding both a right to representation and safer working conditions. The workers, who say they load and unload 360,000 pounds of cargo daily, also claim they are subjected to working with old, malfunctioning equipment and poor lighting that results in workplace injuries.

According to records obtained by the Teamsters, in 2022, there were at least 22 workplace injuries that required employees be taken to the hospital or an emergency room.

“This victory is a testament to what can be achieved when workers are united for a better future,” said Bill Hamilton, director of the Teamsters Express Division. “These workers overcame a tough anti-union campaign and fought hard against the retaliation and misinformation from management. Ultimately, they prevailed because they were determined to bring real change to their workplace.”

The union alleged in the lead up to the election that DHL Express managers ramped up pressure on CVG workers with repeated acts of intimidation, threats, and retaliation for supporting the union. Teamsters organizers had filed 17 unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.

The Teamsters also accused DHL of violating a neutrality agreement with the union and failing to live up to the company’s global declaration of workers and human rights by opposing the union.

“We are thrilled that more DHL Express workers have successfully fought to join our union,” said Teamsters general secretary-treasurer Fred Zuckerman. “Our entire union stands with these workers, ready to keep holding DHL Express accountable.”

Last month, the unionization drive ramped up after The Guardian detailed the resignation of a manager at the Cincinnati hub. Ryan Doyen, who worked as a ramp lead on the DHL Express Ramp, said he quit his management position amid responses and attitudes of other managers toward coworkers once the organizing drive kicked into gear.

“I kept hearing ill speaking of the hourly employees,” Doyen told The Guardian. “Then one day I overheard a conversation between two managers that they needed to take back the hub, that they referred to as a prison, and that they are the ‘wardens’ taking back the prison from the ‘inmates.’”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents more than 6,000 workers at DHL in the U.S.

In September 2022, the Teamsters and DHL reached an agreement for workers across Atlanta, Dallas and Ontario, Calif. to join the union, preventing the employees from having to go through the NLRB election process.

“DHL Express workers made the decision to join the most powerful union in the world. These new Teamsters showed courage and conviction in their organizing drive and we couldn’t be more honored to welcome and protect them,” said Teamsters general president Sean O’Brien. “Whether it’s at DHL, Amazon or UPS, Teamsters never stop in our fight to hold corporations accountable and to get the best contracts for our members.”

The DHL unionization comes as Amazon workers at the airport’s Air Hub are also seeking unionization. Workers are asking for $30 an hour in starting wages, 180 hours of paid time off and no cap on accrued time off, as well as union representation at disciplinary meetings.

Local organizers with Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG in March said they’re joining forces with the national Amazon Labor Union, which led the first successful Amazon unionization push at a Staten Island warehouse last year.

Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG was founded late last year by nearly two dozen employees, including truck driver Griffin Ritze, who said unionization efforts began after the tech giant refused to pay workers $2 extra an hour like it did in the bustling 2021 holiday season, and instead offered new workers a 50-cent per-hour raise.