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 a few labor rights organizations, like the Service Employee International Union and the fast-food industry labor advocacy group called Fight for $15 and a Union. The American Federation of Teachers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Farm Workers are also mixed up in effort.

Chief among the workers’ demands is that their employers raise wages and let their workers form unions to advocate for improved health care, sick leave and other benefits.

Richard Wallace, a Movement for Black Lives leader, says his organization supports unions since they provide a pathway to more competitive wages and benefit for Black workers.

“You can’t pay people minimum wage for a job, once you understand it’s not a full time income wage, realizing that [a plurality] of one’s workforce is black, and then emerge and say, ‘Black Lives Matter,'” that 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 been organizing demonstrations across the country to get essential workers who say they have been forced to work without personal protective equipment and, occasionally, 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 in an emailed statement.

Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT) did not instantly respond to requests for comment about the Strike for Black Lives. The companies 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 leading line

Black Americans make up about 13% of the US populace, but not quite 20% of workers in the nation’s preparing food and serving sector, including fast-food employees, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 18% of Uber drivers and 17.6% of Lyft operations workers are Black.

BLS data also shows more than 37% of the country’s nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides are Black. Many of those aides have been risking their own health to provide care to others while they themselves are not provided with medical insurance by their employers.

Sepia Coleman is just a certified nursing assistant and home health aide from Memphis, Tennessee. She says she cannot leave work to strike on July 20 but she plans to join the protest in solidarity after her shift.

Coleman says she was fired by her last nursing employer, which she asked CNN Business to not name, after she threatened to go public after she and several other nurses who work there were clinically determined to have Covid-19.

In June, Coleman was hired as a nurse by another healthcare company, but she will not be eligible to receive company healthcare benefits for 90 days. At as soon as, she’s one of many home health workers providing care for others at the risk of catching Covid-19 while she herself does not have health 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 make up a lot more than 26% of the warehouse workforce at Amazon.
Recently the ecommerce giant has fired multiple employees involved in labor rights protests, although company maintains those employees were let it go for unrelated reasons.
Amazon has faced criticism from groups like Athena, a coalition of workers’ rights groups and other advocacy organizations pushing the the organization to grant higher wages and advantageous assets to its disproportionately Black workforce.

A spokesperson for Athena said the corporation is considering participating in the Strike for Black Lives as well.

“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.

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