Protest held outside Durham Amazon warehouse over COVID safety protocols

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DURHAM N.C. (WNCN) – On Wednesday, a small group of activists, former employees, and local union members with the Southern Workers Assembly gathered outside an Amazon warehouse. They demanded the company reinstate universal masking, among other COVID-19 protocol requests.

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“To demand hazard pay, social distancing, continued enforcement of masks, they need to supply N95 masks,” said Southern Workers Assembly organizer Dante Strobino.

Amazon, along with other major businesses like Walmart and Tyson Foods, have dropped mask requirements for fully vaccinated employees, as long as it does not conflict with local mandates.

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“I don’t think that’s a good idea because they’re still not saving jobs. They’re not practicing safety,” former employee Gloria Lee said.

This is just one union demonstration of a growing list of people looking to organize efforts across the state.

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Daniel Bowling, Duke senior lecturing fellow, said although North Carolina does not allow companies to enter into union contracts to require people to join, or even pay into a union, the law doesn’t stop people from organizing.

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“I think what we have now is a group of workers in this economy where people who realize the power of the collective,” Bowling said.

In fact, he expects more young people to look toward independent unions or similar groups to negotiate workplaces changes.

“The workers certainly have a right to protest, or groups of them,” Bowling said. “If they are specific workers in a specific workplace, they can demand to bargain over changes.”

Workers like Alyssa Watkins at a Raleigh Starbucks are filing to organize a union over safety concerns.

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“That, and in addition to seeing how corporate has behaved during the pandemic, has been extremely disheartening for partners to see whether that be like them cutting hazard pay only a few months into the pandemic,” Watkins said.

The North Carolina Department of Labor said it received thousands of COVID-related complaints over the past few years and encouraged anyone with concerns to reach out to the department either online or over the phone at 1-800-625-2267.



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