New York, NY – Angry trade unionists on the front lines of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic stood up, on Monday morning, against the “three-pronged crisis” gripping workers in Donald Trump’s America, demanding an end to systemic racism and the immediate passage of the Heroes Act in the U.S. Senate.
“Working people are suffering under a three-pronged crisis here in America: systemic racism, unchecked police brutality, and a public health emergency ravaging communities of color,” 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg told essential workers assembled at the foot of Donald Trump’s garish hotel tower at W. 61st Street. “Today, we’re here to demand — including the man who’s name adorns the building behind us — that [senators] ensure the health, safety and economic well-being of every worker — and that they work to dismantle white supremacy and the end to police brutality.”
The rally consisting of members from Construction and General Building Laborers Local 79, New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA], DC37, Public Employees Federation [PEF], Teamsters Joint Council 16, as well as 32BJ SEIU, was part of the nationwide #StrikeForBlackLives walkout taking place in more than 25 cities and in support of the overall Black Lives Matter movement.
“The disparities in healthcare did not change under COVID,” NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said. “It illustrated how ridiculous it is —how horrible it is — and what an obscenity it is. This is an obscenity; behind me — that is an obscenity. A building like that, that stands like that with the money in there, while we have people that are homeless; who face eviction for not being able to pay their rent; who face foreclosures because they can’t make their mortgages —that is the obscenity.”
Eva Conyers helps provides security at a shelter down on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan. Several years ago, she says she fell prey to gentrification and slid into homelessness despite a holding a job with New York City Transit at the time.
Now, she works paycheck-to-paycheck worrying if she will contract COVID-19 on the job and bring it home to her family.
“It’s very sad because we shouldn’t even be in this situation,” the 32BJ member told LaborPress. “We’re all people, we’re all human beings, we all deserve to live. Why do we still have this problem?”
Members of two different families staying at the Holiday Inn Express where Charmaine Lathan works the overnight shift as a security guard, became sick with COVID-19 during the pandemic.
“We had a crate in front of the door where we would leave bags [of food], knock on the door and go away,” she says.
As a Black woman working throughout the pandemic, Lathan believes that the NYPD does, indeed, need reform.
The police take actions [in situations] that they shouldn’t really take action — they know that they weren’t trained that way,” she says.
Local 79 organizer Justice Favor grew up poor in a New York City housing development where he says police officers “constantly profiled” him and his friends. In 2007, one of those friends was killed in a police shooting.
“The facts are the facts,” Favor told LaborPress. “We’re not going to lump everyone in; police are necessary. However, it’s [about] responsible policing. And responsible policing could start with your co-worker calling out a bad co-worker and saying what you’re doing is not right.”
Today, some of Favor’s friends are police officers themselves. Unfortunately, Favor says while they understand there is a “systemic problem” with policing — they often too afraid to speak out fearing retaliation.
“We all take orders from our bosses and superiors — we just hope our superiors and bosses are leading us down the right path,” Favor said. “Folks [on the force] have families and livelihoods that they need to support. That being said, they are afraid to speak out because they could be vilified or alienated on the force.”
Favor added, “If you look at the George Floyd situation — [it would have taken] just one cop to tap that one cop on his back and say, ‘Yo, bro — take your [knee] off his neck.’”
Local 372 Vice-President and father of four, Donald Nesbit invoked both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and said that there are no differences between workers rights and civil rights.
“It’s all one movement,” he said on Monday. “In this time, we have to understand that this is one movement. Along with representing workers, I go home [everyday] and raise my four young Black men. Even in college, they face police brutality and different injustices — while doing the right thing. A lot of people say, well…progress is being made; there are laws being passed and we should stop [protesting]. Progress is when the wound begins to heal. We have to talk about the injustices that have been going on for generations.”
Last month, 32BJ revealed that many of its members were fearful about coming into contact with “aggressive policing as they go to their jobs.”
“Systemic racism in our country leads to law enforcement criminalizing and killing Black people,” Bragg said. “And systemic racism is also responsible for Black people and people of color being affected by COVID-19 at a devastating rate. And systemic racism is also to blame for people of color bearing the burden of the pandemic’s economic fallout.”
Some 40 million Americans are now unemployed. Another 1.3 million filed for unemployment benefits in the last month alone. At the same time, the number of reported COVID-19 cases is creeping toward the 4 million mark with more than 141,000 dead.
In Portland, where protesters have also taken to the streets to protest systemic racism, police brutality and economic injustice — the Trump administration has decided to order in heavily armed, unidentified federal agents to crush free speech and the right to assemble.
“They need need to pass the Heroes Act to protect all of us — essential workers and all workers,” Sheridan-Gonzalez added. “We’re not begging anymore — we’re not begging for PPE, we’re not begging for equity. We’re demanding social equity, racial equity, economic equity, cultural equity, environmental equity. Because one thing that we know — all lives will matter when Black lives truly matter.”