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Labor Joins Black Lives Matter in Coast to Coast Action Against Systemic Racism, Police Brutality and Economic Inequality

July 21, 2020

By Steve Wishnia

New York, NY – Workers in more than 150 cities staged walkouts and rallies as part of a nationwide “strike for black lives” July 20.

Members of Teamsters Local 804 in Brooklyn were part of a nationwide labor action in support of Black Lives Matter on July 20.

Those actions included an early-morning strike by 1,500 office-building janitors in San Francisco; rallies by McDonald’s and hospital workers in Chicago; marches by fast-food workers in St. Louis and Durham, N.C.; and a rally by Teamsters Local 804 members outside a UPS center in Brooklyn. 

“We’re on strike demanding adequate PPE, benefits, higher wages, paid leave, hazard pay, and better training, and better staffing,” Detroit nursing-home worker Trece Andrews said at a press conference organized by Fight for $15 and a Union. “We demand an end to the risks we’re facing. We’re on strike for racial justice and economic justice in society and at work. We can’t have one without the other. They go hand in hand.”

Andrews and her coworkers went on strike for an hour at noon. “This is just the beginning,” she said. “We want respect, we want dignity.”

In Memphis, Communications Workers of America members protested outside an AT&T Mobility call center where 10 out of 20 new hires tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after the company refused to have their job training done remotely. Most of the workers there are black women, the union said.

Many took actions for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Minneapolis police had their knees on George Floyd’s back before he stopped breathing. About 100 Teamsters Local 808 members in Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town apartment complex took a knee Kaepernick-style for that amount of time, as did hundreds of airport workers in Minneapolis, mostly immigrants from East Africa. Workers at various Amazon warehouses and Walmart, Whole Foods, and Kroger stores walked off their jobs for 8:46, as did a few thousand workers at nursing homes in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

In Seattle, janitors walked out for 8:46 near the end of the overnight shift, while in California, hundreds of farm workers stopped work at sunrise, holding signs that read, “Farm Workers Support Black Lives Matter.” 

“We face racism as well,” striking United Farm Workers member Guillermo Garcia told the press conference, speaking in Spanish through a translator. “Often while we work alongside the main road, passersby yell racial slurs as we harvest the vegetables.” 

The unions and labor organizations involved included the Service Employees International Union [SEIU], the Teamsters, the Communication Workers of America [CWA], the Amalgamated Transit Union [ATU], United Farm Workers, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Fight for $15. They were joined by groups like the Movement for Black Lives, the Poor People’s Campaign, and the youth-activist Future Coalition. 

Members of Teamsters Local 808 take a knee in StuyTown memorializing the 8 minutes and 46 seconds Minneapolis police pinned George Floyd to the ground and killing him.

“We know that statements in support of our Black colleagues and Black lives are not enough to dismantle the centuries of racism that have shaped our society and our workplaces,” CWA President Chris Shelton said in a statement. “We are taking real action, educating all of our members on the importance of this movement and the harsh realities that so many of their Black coworkers face each and every day, and demanding the same from our employers. As this pandemic continues to disproportionately affect our Black colleagues and other communities of color, we are ensuring all members understand that an injury to one is an injury to all.”  

The protests’ demands began with “justice for Black communities, with an unequivocal declaration that Black Lives Matter, as a necessary first step to winning justice for all workers.” They move on to the economics of dismantling “racism, white supremacy, and economic exploitation,” including that elected officials “reimagine our economy and democracy so that communities of every race can thrive”; corporations raise wages and provide “health care, sick leave and expanded health-care coverage to people who are uninsured or have lost coverage as the result of losing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic”; and that “every worker must have the opportunity to form a union, no matter where they work.”

Those demands, while not that detailed, will require more than symbolic displays from employers. “Tweeting ‘Black Lives Matter’ won’t undo racial injustice in our workplaces and doesn’t do anything about the poverty wages, lack of sick days and inadequate PPE that has left Black workers more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Memphis McDonald’s worker Alexis Chambers said in a statement released by Fight for $15.We’re going on Strike for Black Lives because it’s time for companies like McDonald’s to show they value our lives by giving workers a seat at the table and a voice on the job.” 

“We’re risking our lives going to work and still getting the same poverty wages, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Adriana Alvarez, a striking McDonald’s worker in Chicago, said during the press conference. “I’m raising my eight-year-old son on my own, and I shouldn’t have to choose between our health, or having food on the table for us.”

She said the walkout was “for today, but if it goes on, whatever it takes.”

“We all have a choice about how we want to move forward, whether we are going to be silent or speak out to change things for the betterment of humanity,” Teamsters Local 804 shop steward Antoine Andrews, one of the UPS workers who rallied in Brooklyn, said in a statement released by the national union.

July 21, 2020

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