‘This can’t go on’: U.S. workers plan nationwide strike to protest racial injustice

NELLIE PEYTON

FAST-FOOD, nursing home, airport and other frontline workers across the United States are planning a mass strike on Monday to protest systemic racism and inadequate protections for Black people against coronavirus.

The Strike for Black Lives is expected to draw tens of thousands of workers in over 25 U.S. cities, according to a coalition of national labor unions and social justice groups that have organized it.

Some workers will strike all day and others will walk off their jobs for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that a white police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose May 25 death sparked global protests.

Workers are calling on corporations to raise wages, provide healthcare and paid sick leave and expand childcare support – rights, they say, that are often disproportionately denied to Black people.

“Too often, Black workers have been exploited and devalued in the workplace, especially in industries where we make up a huge percentage of the workforce,” said Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Movement for Black Lives.

“Corporations that are profiting from the exploitation of Black workers must be held accountable,” she said.

Floyd’s death on May 25 started an anti-racism movement that has spread around the world, with people tearing down statues of slave traders and demanding police reforms.

Major brands have taken to social media to declare their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and some such as PepsiCo have pledged to invest millions to address racial inequality and increase the number of Black managers.

But critics say some companies are capitalizing on the moment for good publicity without actually tackling discrimination or unfair practices within their own workforce.

The coronavirus pandemic – which has been more than twice as deadly for Black Americans as for white Americans – has put racial disparity in sharp relief.

In Missouri, striking workers will rally at the McDonald’s in Ferguson, followed by a march to the memorial for Michael Brown, a Black man who was killed by police in 2014, said leaders of the Fight for $15, a group started by fast-food workers calling for wages to be raised to $15 an hour.

Strikes and protests will also take place in Detroit, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis, and other cities, said union leaders.

The United States saw the widest racial gap in unemployment rates since 2015 last month, with the white unemployment rate at 10.1% and the Black unemployment rate at 15.4%.

“As a frontline healthcare worker, I’ve seen firsthand how the government and employers have turned a blind eye to us and have ignored our cries for support,” said Denitra Pearson, a home care provider and member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Connecticut.

“This can’t go on. It’s time for all of us to join in the Strike for Black Lives and finally bring an end to the injustices Black and brown people face every single day, pandemic or not,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.