Maintenance workers at Duke Raleigh Hospital vote to unionize

Duke Raleigh Hospital. Courtesy of Sarah Avery.
Duke Raleigh Hospital. Courtesy of Sarah Avery.

Maintenance employees at Duke Raleigh Hospital voted in favor of unionization in a National Labor Relations Board-certified secret ballot Thursday, becoming the first workers in North Carolina to do so in 2024.

The employees will join the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 465, and can now collectively negotiate towards a contract for better compensation.

“Congratulations to the workers at Duke Raleigh Hospital on winning the first union election in North Carolina this year,” MaryBe McMillan, president of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, said in a release. “They have joined a growing labor movement that saw historic victories in 2023, including by some 2,400 graduate student workers at Duke University, and we will stand with them in their fight for a first contract.”

All full-time and regular part-time skilled maintenance employees at the hospital were eligible to vote, including carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, HVAC mechanics, zone maintenance mechanics and locksmiths. Other employees, like managers and supervisors, were not included.

“We’re just trying to provide for our families, be treated fairly, and have our hard work respected,” said longtime Duke Raleigh Hospital worker Corey Brown. “People have kids, houses, and lives at stake, and before the hospital could do pretty much whatever they wanted. Now we will have the power to secure our future together.”

Workers within the Duke University Health System have attempted unionization before, most notably during the unsuccessful Duke University Hospital unionization drives of the 1970s. 

After dining hall and custodial workers unionized at Duke in 1972, hospital workers at Duke University Hospital tried to form an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union in 1974. The University delayed the unionization election until November 1976, and then expanded the types of workers who were eligible to vote to include many highly skilled employees. AFSCME went on to barely lose the election, as support for the union died down and internal disputes dampened organization efforts.

Workers at the hospital tried to unionize again in the summer of 1978, with many workers complaining of harassment from their supervisors and discrimination from administration. The hospital workers ultimately voted to reject AFSCME representation in early 1979. 

Jazper Lu profile
Jazper Lu | Centennial/Elections Editor

Jazper Lu is a Trinity senior and centennial/elections editor for The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously managing editor for volume 119.


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