On Monday, a massive nationwide workers strike took place in 160 cities, without regard to a specific industry or company. The Strike for Black Lives, initially organized by Movement for Black Lives but in partnership with over four dozen other groups, was a demand for accountability from corporate leadership on the part of a country struggling through a pandemic and a social justice crisis.
In statements supplied by national nonprofit Fight for $15, a number of workers explained why they walked off the job.
“We’re risking our lives going to work and still getting the same poverty wages, and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Adriana Alvarez, a striking McDonald’s worker in Chicago. “I’m raising my 8-year-old son on my own, and I shouldn’t have to choose between our health, or having food on the table for us.”
Many of the workers who walked out Monday are in low-wage jobs at major brands like McDonald’s, Amazon, Kroger, Whole Foods, Walmart and Century 21. Most of the brands and retail chains recently stated their support for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. Black workers (and their allies) who work at those brands called on corporate leaders to connect the dots when it comes to the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on their communities—and to back up their stated commitments to diversity and inclusion by making economic equality a priority.
“Walmart and other corporations cannot claim to be committed to Black lives while their policies—from inadequate health insurance to poverty wages to insufficient paid leave—have helped lay the groundwork for staggeringly disparate health and economic outcomes in the Black community,” said Cat Davis, a Walmart associate and member of the United for Respect campaign that asks the retail chain for a $15 minimum wage and an end to forced part-time schedules, among other things.
But while low-wage retail jobs were a major focus of demands for a $15 minimum wage, healthcare, childcare and other benefits that many workers at retail chains lack, other sectors joined in the strike as well. Uber and Lyft drivers drove through Los Angeles in a caravan, and AT&T workers picketed outside a call center in Memphis, Tenn. Google employees and Teamsters working in waste, healthcare and package delivery all took a knee at noon for eight minutes and 46 seconds—the length of time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck before he died.
Essential healthcare workers like nurses and home attendants, domestic workers, farmworkers and unions joined in, too.
“The last four months or so has been really hard for the Black and Brown community. Covid-19, it hit us hard and strong in the nursing homes,” said Trece Andrews, a Detroit nursing home worker. “We’re on strike demanding adequate PPE, benefits, higher wages, paid leave, hazard pay and better training, and better staffing. We demand an end to the risks we’re facing.”
Workers aren’t just going on strike; they’re also filing lawsuits. On Monday, Whole Foods workers filed a class action lawsuit against the company for not letting employees wear masks or other apparel with the Black Lives Matter slogan. And in Tampa on Friday, Black employees filed a federal discrimination suit against McDonald’s alleging racist comments and retaliation.
Monday’s strikers were met with support from elected officials, including recent presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar also joined workers on strike in Washington, D.C., advocating for the passage of the Heroes Act that would authorize an extension of stimulus payments as well as hazard pay for essential workers.