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On Monday, workers across the U.S. are expected to walk off the job in a series of protests organizers are calling the Strike for Black Lives.
The action was coordinated by a coalition of labor groups and activists that includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and United Farm Workers. The walkouts are scheduled to last eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time originally reported that police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, leading to his death. Floyd’s killing has led to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, alongside nationwide anti-racism protests and calls to defund the police.
In at least 29 nationwide events, protesters today will be raising their voices for a wide-ranging list of demands: higher wages, better jobs, and the ability for more workers to form unions. They’re also calling on elected officials to reimagine the economy in a way that better serves Black communities, and on corporations to dismantle systematic racism, expand health care, and better provide workers with personal protective equipment.
While Black people make up about 13% of the U.S. population, they disproportionately work in roles impacted by the coronavirus pandemic: Black adults make up 23% of respiratory therapists, 27% of licensed nurses, nearly 27% of health care support positions, 20% of protective services jobs like correctional officers, and nearly 20% of food preparation and serving workers, such as fast food associates. The coronavirus pandemic has continued the long-standing health care disparity for Black Americans: Black people account for about one in four of COVID-19 deaths where the patient’s race is known. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases continue to surge across the country with no end in sight.
Protesters from around the country spoke to Fortune about why they are walking off the job today. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity:
“I’m going on strike for Black lives because our hospital isn’t taking our demands seriously when it’s literally a matter of life or death. We know COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black lives here in Chicago and across the country. Our hospitals and elected leaders need to recognize that. That means investing in those of us serving Black communities with higher wages, better benefits, and safer staffing so we can continue to provide the quality of care our patients deserve.”
—Wellington Thomas, 38
Emergency room technician at Loretto Hospital
“I work at three different jobs, and I make $9 an hour. I should be making $11 per hour. I watch others come in and make more money than me even though I’ve been there for six years. As Black women, we fight so hard to take care of our families. I have a family of four. I know there are other families out there trying to make ends meet. If we come together, our voices will be heard. It’s very important to me because I want to be heard, and I want others’ voices to be heard.”
—Deatric Edie, 40
Associate at McDonald’s, Papa John’s, and Wendy’s
“I am a part-time faculty member at Valencia College. There is a big gap between the amount of people of color in full-time positions versus part-time positions. There is an even wider gap if we consider administration and leadership positions. Administration is currently pushing to move to more equitable hiring practices, which I do commend. These practices will help Valencia in the long run. But we also need to consider what is happening in the short term, especially in times like these, with COVID-19 and issues of racial inequity at the forefront of our everyday lives.
Part-time faculty need a voice and further recognition. There are little to no channels for part-time faculty to engage and know their voices are being heard. I was a temporary full-time professor, helped create a new club, and then had to have the difficult conversation with my students that I would not be able to provide them the same support, as I was going back to part-time work. I went back to part-time, and I could not let them flounder. So I took it upon myself to work extra for no pay. I have had to meet students at coffee shops, or crammed in adjunct resource rooms, interrupting other adjunct-student meetings. I have had to get to the classroom early or leave late because I have nowhere to meet with them if they need to meet in private. When they ask me about trying to find my office, I have to hold back my tears thinking of my car as my only office space. I have had to rely on the kindness of some of my colleagues in letting me store things in their office, so I don’t lug them across campus. We are a student-centered institution, but part-time faculty do not get paid or acknowledged for student engagement hours. We are a student-centered institution that serves a large BIPOC student population, with an underrepresentation of BIPOC full-time faculty and administration, and an overrepresentation of BIPOC part-time faculty and staff. The inequity is palpable, and it needs to change.”
—Carmen Laguer-Díaz, 34
Part-time faculty member at Valencia College
“I am a Black climate organizer, and every day my existence is a form of radical resistance. I understand how climate is a race issue, and being siloed in a white-dominated movement means always making sure the work is centering Black leadership. During this current uprising, we have to be more radical, nimble, and unwavering in defense of Black lives. At 350.org, we understand that the work to dismantle racist systems, and systems of anti-Blackness and white supremacy is our work when tackling the climate crisis. As a climate movement, we must support the demand to divest from the police and fossil fuels, and reinvest in Black communities and a just recovery.”
—Dominique Thomas, 29
Organizer at 350.org
Harlem, New York
“Thirty-three of my coworkers went on strike in late May in the face of a COVID-19 outbreak at our store. McDonald’s failed to keep us safe. Instead of proper PPE, we were treated like animals and given doggy diapers to wear as masks. In total, 11 of us and eight of our family members tested positive for the virus.
Our strike came as the country saw a wave of uprisings in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. [Editor’s note: Chauvin, the officer who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with second-degree murder, but has yet to face trial. One of the officers involved in the killing of Taylor has been fired; none currently face criminal charges. The three men accused of killing Arbery have been indicted on murder charges, but have not yet gone to trial.] Our fights for justice are inextricably linked. I grew up believing in the promises of the United States, but I have seen how badly those promises have been broken, especially for my Black brothers and sisters. Until Black people can thrive, none of our communities can thrive. That’s why I am striking for Black Lives. I will be standing with working people from all backgrounds—Black and white, Latino and Asian, First Nations and immigrants—to demand justice and respect from our workplaces to the communities where we live. Systemic racism and greed have led to the loss of Black and brown lives through police violence and corporate negligence. We can stop this, but it will take working people fighting together to dismantle this unfair system.”
—Angely Rodriguez, 26
Associate at McDonald’s
“I’ve been a security officer in Seattle for over 14 years. Security plays a crucial role securing hospitals, grocery stores, businesses—there to protect but also to help enforce social distancing practices and provide a familiar face. Before I became a security officer, I was in the police explorer program, and my interactions with police have mostly been positive. However, I know, as a Black man in America today, I’m only one wrong encounter away from dying because of the color of my skin. On top of that, when I come home from work, I worry I will spread COVID-19 to my family—my partner, my four daughters, including my 6-month-old. It took three long months during the pandemic before my company provided us with masks. That’s why I’m standing up. Essential workers—who are mostly Black and brown folks—deserve respect, a workplace free of racism and discrimination, PPE, hazard pay, and job protections. I’m joining with tens of thousands of workers across the country. I’ll be taking a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the time it took for George Floyd to be murdered in broad daylight, by police.” [Editor’s note: The officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck has been charged with murder but has not yet gone to trial.]
—Demetrus Dugar, 35
“I am kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd in support of the Strike for Black Lives. This day is important to me because I believe the oppressive systems that prevent Black people from living a safe life in our country are wrong. It is time for us to continue the fight to make our country a better place, and I am proud to stand in solidarity with my fellow workers across the country until we make this right. As a state worker, I know that when we come together in our union we make sure we stand behind every single member, no matter the color of their skin.”
—Cassie Geremaia, 32
Hospital cost analyst at the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing
“My life as a Black individual matters. I am a Black domestic worker in America. We have not been appreciated. I want everyone to know what a day without Black domestic workers feels like when we’re not in your homes, not in your offices. If you don’t support Black lives, it can impact the country. Just knowing that Black lives matter is the first step in getting justice.”
—Crystal Crawford, 34
Nanny for multiple families
More coverage on the intersection of race and business from Fortune:
- Bill McDermott on why modern business leadership requires a softer touch
- Ellevest will allow female investors to back companies that support racial justice
- Why companies must take a stand on racism and social issues, according to a Fortune 500 CEO
- These 5 numbers tell you everything you need to know about racial disparities in health care
- 3 ways companies can combat the major public health issue of racism right now