Strike for Black Lives demands union rights for workers at McDonald’s, Amazon, Uber and others

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.

The protest has been organized by the Movement for Black Lives — a coalition of black advocacy groups — and several labor rights companies, including the Service Employee International Union and the fast-food industry labor advocacy group known as Fight for $15 and a Union. The American Federation of Teachers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Farm Workers will also be involved in the effort.

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.”

Since the coronavirus crisis began, the SEIU and Fight for $15 have already been organizing demonstrations across the country to get essential workers who say they have been forced to work without personal protective equipment and, sometimes, have caught Covid-19.

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.

McDonald’s (MCD) reaffirmed its support for Black Lives Matter in a statement to CNN Business, but declined to directly address to questions about its workers forming a union.

“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.

Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT) failed to immediately answer requests for comment concerning the Strike for Black Lives. The organizations have issued public statements showing support for black police brutality victims or the Black Lives Matter movement while starting programs to benefit Black Americans in recent weeks.

Black workers on the front line

Black Americans constitute about 13% of the usa population, but nearly 20% of workers in the country’s food preparation and serving sector, which includes fast-food employees, based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 18% of Uber drivers and 17.6% of Lyft operations workers are Black.

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.

In June, Coleman was hired as a nurse by yet another health care company, but she won’t be permitted receive company health care benefits for 90 days. At the moment, she’s one of many home health workers providing care for others at the danger of catching Covid-19 while she herself doesn’t have medical insurance.

“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

Workers protest against the failure from their employers to provide adequate protections in the workplace of the Amazon delivery hub on National May Day Walkout/Sickout by workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Innstacart and Shipt amid the Covid-19 pandemic on May 1, 2020, in Hawthorne, California.
African Americans also constitute more than 26% of the warehouse workforce at Amazon.
Recently the e-commerce giant has fired multiple employees involved in labor rights protests, though the company maintains those employees were let go for unrelated reasons.
Amazon has faced criticism from groups like Athena, a coalition of workers’ rights groups and other advocacy companies pushing the the company to grant higher wages and benefits to its disproportionately Black workforce.

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.