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A union drive is underway at Amazon's huge new North Carolina facility. Can workers win?

Brian Gordon, The News & Observer on

Published in Science & Technology News

The Amazon distribution center in Garner, North Carolina, is massive. Located a few miles southeast of downtown Raleigh, it covers 2 million square feet and houses multiple departments across four floors. The facility, known as RDU1, employs more than 4,000 people who work shifts spanning all hours of the day and night, seven days a week.

It’s a colossal operation, and Mary Hill is one of the workers trying to unionize it all.

A Raleigh resident, Hill is the co-founder of Carolina Amazonians United for Solidarity and Empowerment, or C.A.U.S.E., which she formed with her colleague Rev. Ryan Brown, a former pastor in western North Carolina.

Their desire to unionize began in January, when Brown, 41, says management asked him to work in an area he knew was experiencing COVID-19 spread. He later shared his frustrations with Hill, who agreed with his plan to take action.

“It was time to take a stand,” Hill said. “To stop the unfair treatment of associates, the way they talk to us, the lack of respect.”

Hill, 68, works in the pack singles department at $15.50 an hour. She spends 10.5-hour shifts packaging “anything that anybody orders,” which on a recent day included a cast-iron pot, a Ring doorbell, and lots of batteries.

 

C.A.U.S.E. remains in the early stages of organizing, and it has a long road ahead.

Hill and Brown have built a coalition of pro-union workers, most of whom are Black and Latino, like the workforce as a whole. But the support isn’t yet large enough to win an election. To reach that point, C.A.U.S.E. must convince skeptical coworkers, overcome opposition from Amazon, and learn to lead a grassroots campaign in a state that lacks strong structural and historical foundations for organizing.

Many factors are working against the group, but Hill believes their mission is too important not to try.

‘Someone who’s been in the trenches’

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