Thousands of workers are expected to walk off the job in more than 25 cities on July 20 in a mass demonstration called the Strike for Black Lives, organizers say. The strike takes aim at various industries by which Black workers are disproportionately represented, including fast food, airports, gig workers, nursing and home health aides.
Chief on the list of workers’ demands is that their employers raise wages and let their employees form unions to advocate for improved medical care, sick leave and other benefits.
Richard Wallace, a Movement for Black Lives leader, says his organization supports unions because they give a pathway to more competitive wages and benefit for Black workers.
“You cannot pay people minimum wage for work, knowing it is not a living wage, knowing that [a plurality] of your workforce is black, and then come out and say, ‘Black Lives Matter,'” he told CNN Business. “A collective bargaining agreement is the only ironclad way of ensuring those values that they’re promoting in this moment are held onto in perpetuity until the contract is resolved.”
Both labor groups are fighting for union rights in workforce sectors where Black employees are overrepresented.
“Many corporations have been quick to claim that Black Lives Matter, yet they refuse to take concrete action to protect the health and economic security of their Black workers,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told CNN Business.
“With one of the most diverse workforces in the world, we believe Black lives matter, and it is our responsibility to continue to listen and learn and push for a more inclusive society by being open, honest and candid,” a McDonald’s spokesperson said within an emailed statement.
Black workers on the front line
BLS data also shows a lot more than 37% of the country’s nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides are Black. Many of these aides have already been risking their very own health to supply care to others while they themselves aren’t given health insurance by their employers.
Sepia Coleman is a certified nursing assistant and home health aide from Memphis, Tennessee. She says she can’t leave work to strike on July 20 but she plans to become listed on the protest in solidarity after her shift.
Coleman says she was fired by her last nursing employer, which she asked CNN Business not to name, after she threatened to go public after she and many nurses who work there have been diagnosed with Covid-19.
“I go to work every day, I pray and make sure I do what I have to do to keep out of harm’s way,” Coleman said. “I say to myself, ‘If I do get it again, I just pray to God I can recover from it.’ If we had union rights, we’d be able to negotiate that so that we have insurance from the day we start.”
Scrutiny on Amazon
A spokesperson for Athena said the organization is considering taking part in the Strike for Black Lives aswell.
“What remains true across these industries is their enormous fortunes have been amassed directly from the labor of Black and brown workers,” Myaisha Hayes, campaign director at MediaJustice, a core member group in the Athena coalition, told CNN Business via email on Thursday.