If you can, consider walking off your job today. In over 25 cities, tens of thousands of workers across many industries — often workers we’ve begun calling “essential” during the pandemic — are planning to walk off their jobs as part of the nationwide Strike for Black Lives. Participants will include service workers, teachers, domestic workers, transit workers, and farmworkers, as well as labor advocacy groups like Fight For $15, racial justice groups, and climate activism groups.
Workers are demanding higher wages, as well as benefits like paid sick leave, health care, and the ability to unionize. Especially in light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, they’re asking everyone to recognize that racial justice can’t be achieved without workers’ rights and protections. Without unions, workers are often left with little bargaining power, even when wages and conditions are inhumane. In the mid-20th century, about a third of workers were union members. Today, only about 10% are.
According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, 63% of Latinx workers in the U.S. earn low wages, as well as 54% of Black workers. If Black lives matter, economic inequality has to be addressed. “Workers are demanding solutions from government and corporations that center communities of color and dismantle racist policies to make sure every family is healthy, safe, and secure, no matter their race, immigration status, job, or where they live,” reads a statement on the Service Employees International Union’s website.
Strikes are taking place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Orlando, Memphis, Durham, and many more cities (use this map to find out if one is happening where you live). While most private sector employees have legal protections allowing them to strike, there are some best practices advised by the Strike for Black Lives organizers to prevent facing any repercussions. Organizers are also calling on those who can’t strike all day today to honor the movement by taking the 8:46 Pledge. The name is a reference to the police killing of George Floyd, when an officer knelt on his neck for over 8 minutes, with Floyd telling officers over 20 times that he couldn’t breathe. At 12pm today, take a knee or hold silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, or walk off your job for that amount of time.
More and more workers are speaking out against toxic, racist work environments, and not just with strikes and protests. On July 17th, three McDonald’s employees filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Florida, saying that they faced a “racially hostile work environment” at the fast food chain. They said that when they brought up their concerns, they were punished in various ways, including having their hours cut, being assigned extremely strenuous tasks, and facing arbitrary disciplinary measures.
While many companies have come out in support of Black Lives Matter in the past two months, Strike for Black Lives is about holding them to that commitment for their own Black employees. Today is just one more important moment in the fight for racial and economic equality that’s sweeping the country.