‘Referred to as inmates by managers’: DHL workers push to unionize US hub | US unions

A former manager at one of DHL’s largest facilities claims fellow managers referred to workers as “inmates” and themselves as “wardens” of a prison in conversations about how to stop a union organizing drive at the site.

The revelations come as DHL is at loggerheads with the Teamsters over a union election to represent workers at the site.

Ryan Doyen has worked at DHL for about five years and was promoted to a manager position as a ramp lead on the DHL Express Ramp. He said he resigned from management at the logistics company’s super hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky international airport (CVG) and returned to an hourly position after hearing the responses and attitudes of other managers toward his co-workers once a union organizing drive ramped up at the site.

“I kept hearing ill speaking of the hourly employees,” said Doyen. “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’. On that note, I did not want to be a part of management any more because I couldn’t idly sit by and allow managers to speak ill of the people I called my friends and colleagues. It didn’t sit right with me as a human.”

After the incident, Doyen wrote a resignation letter from his managerial position. Afterward, he started speaking with union organizers and getting involved in the union effort, which he had not initially supported.

DHL employs about 3,000 workers at the CVG Global Hub, with 900 workers currently seeking to form a union with Teamsters Local 100. DHL and the union are still disputing the size and scope of the bargaining unit and an election date has yet to be determined by the National Labor Relations Board.

DHL opened the hub in 2013, one of the company’s three super hubs in the world, operating as the main hub in the US for DHL, one of the largest air cargo airports in the world.

Based in Germany, DHL is one of the largest logistics corporations in the world.

Through the union organizing campaign, workers have filed 17 unfair labor practice charges against DHL, alleging harassment, intimidation, surveillance and retaliation from management for union activities. The Teamsters have 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.

The Teamsters already represent about 6,000 of the 10,000 workers at DHL in the US and workers criticized DHL for its response to the union drive at the hub given previous agreements with the union at other sites.

Doyen said workers were pushing to unionize at DHL for issues ranging from job security, representation at disciplinary hearings, improved pay and benefits, a voice on safety issues and working conditions.

Doyen described the work as dangerous and grueling, with workers subjected to extreme temperatures in summer and winter months, often without air conditioning or heating in vehicles. He claimed workers had to deal with old or poorly maintained equipment, and had to ask management to call off work due to safety concerns for weather such as lightning.

“We want to have a voice. We don’t have a voice right now,” added Doyen. “Ever since we filed for our election, they’ve delayed it for so long. We should have already had our vote and be at the bargaining table. DHL needs to stop delaying our vote so we can have our union.”

Steven Fightmaster, a third-shift leader on the domestic ramp at DHL for nearly two years, argued the push to unionize at the site came from the different treatment workers at unionized sites get compared with what they receive at CVG.

“Not only are they treated a lot better, but they’re also compensated much, much better than we are at the hub,” said Fightmaster.

He claimed that throughout the union campaign, management and DHL security or contracted security have harassed workers supporting the union, telling them they cannot wear union shirts or vests to threatening to call the police on workers speaking with other workers in the parking lot about the union effort.

“I’ve been followed off the property by DHL corporate security. I was followed to my home on one occasion, I was followed to a union meeting on another and it’s just the constant harassment and intimidation tactics used by both DHL corporate security and their security contractor,” said Fightmaster.

“As hourly employees, we’ve been referred to as inmates by managers. The phrase used was they are the ones taking back the ramp from the inmates. We’re just not respected out there. We don’t have the dignity and respect in the workplace that we deserve, and people are getting fed up with it.”

Asked about the “inmates” comments, a spokesperson for DHL did not directly address the allegation. “At the DHL CVG Hub, we prioritize treating our employees with the utmost respect. We deeply value the rights of our workers and always prioritize their safety and welfare, not just at our Hub but in all of our operations,” they said.

The spokesperson listed wage increases, increases in paid time off, and individual counseling offerings.

“We also provide training and orientation programs for all of our management levels to ensure that our core values are integrated into every aspect of our operation. We’re dedicated to creating a healthy work environment, both physically and emotionally, for all our employees,” they added. “Additionally, we recognize our employees’ right to unionize within the confines of the law and are fully committed to all agreements we have with our local, national and international labor partners.”

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