AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File Racial Injustice Black Lives Strike
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

Striking workers aim to link the decades of systemic racism, police brutality, and economic repression with the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on Black communities.

Tens of thousands of frontline workers across the country are going on strike Monday to protest systemic racism and police brutality and to demand that corporations and the government take action to address white supremacy, end economic exploitation of Black workers, and allow all workers to unionize. 

The “Strike for Black Lives” will include fast food, ride-share, nursing home, and airport workers in more than 25 cities who plan to walk off the job for the full day. Those who can’t strike for the full day will walk out for eight minutes and 46 seconds—the amount of time prosecutors say a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee on George Floyd’s neck, suffocating him to death—to honor the memories of Black men and women who have been killed by police officers.

The event—which was organized by the Movement for Black Lives, other racial and social justice organizations, and a coalition of labor unions—will also include worker-led marches in participating cities, including Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed.

RELATED: The Movement for Black Lives Wants to Radically Reimagine Policing. Here’s How.

Striking workers aim to link the decades of systemic racism, police brutality, and economic repression with the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on Black communities.

“Like many healthcare workers I am risking my life to care for patients, yet I do not receive a living wage, hazard pay, or even paid sick days. As a Black woman, the systemic injustices I face do not end with my job,” said Faith Alexander, a nursing assistant in Fayetteville, North Carolina. “I’m part of the Strike for Black Lives because racial justice and economic justice go hand in hand. We’re coming together across the country to confront racism and build new systems that allow all our communities to thrive.”

The workers have four key demands, centered around improving the upward mobility and better career opportunities for workers of color. They want:

1. Justice for Black communities, including higher wages, better jobs, the right to unionize, healthcare for all, and reforms to education, housing, and criminal justice.

2. Lawmakers and candidates use their power to “rewrite the rules and reimagine our economy and democracy so that Black communities can thrive.” Specifically, organizers want officials to guarantee safe voting in-person and by mail and better protections for those returning to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Corporations to “take immediate action to dismantle racism, white supremacy, and economic exploitation,” specifically by raising wages, providing health care, paid sick leave, childcare support, and expanded healthcare coverage to people who are uninsured or have lost coverage due to the loss of their jobs during COVID-19. They also want workers to be provided ample personal protective equipment (PPE) and have a voice in the plan to create safe workplaces during and after the pandemic.

4. The right for every worker in America to unionize and a $15-per-hour minimum wage. 

These measures, workers and organizers say, would help address the crisis of systemic poverty, which affects 140 million people in the U.S, including 62 million people who work for less than a living wage, according to the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, one of the organizations involved in the strike. An estimated 54% of Black workers and 63% of Hispanic workers fall into that category, compared to only 37% of white workers and 40% of Asian American workers, the group said.

“If in fact we are going to take on police violence that kills, then certainly we have to take on economic violence that also kills.”

“The reason why, on July 20th, you’re going to see strikes and protests and the walk-offs and socially distanced sit-ins and voter registration outreach is because thousands and thousands of poor, low-wage workers of every race, creed and color understand that racial, economic, health care, immigration, climate and other justice fights are all connected,” the Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, told the Associated Press. “If in fact we are going to take on police violence that kills, then certainly we have to take on economic violence that also kills.”

Organizers not only want companies and the government to unequivocally agree that “Black Lives Matter,” but to back that up with action. 

“Corporate giants such as Walmart and McDonald’s profit off racial injustice and inequity,” said Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, co-executive director of Tennessee-based Highlander Research and Education Center and strike organizer with the Movement for Black Lives. “They claim to support Black lives, but their business model functions by exploiting Black labor—passing off pennies as ‘living wages’ and pretending to be shocked when COVID-19 sickens those Black people who make up their essential workers.”

RELATED: U.S. Ranks Dead Last Among Major Countries for Workers’ Rights

Frontline Black workers agree and have called out their employers for their hypocrisy. 

“Companies like McDonald’s cannot on the one hand tweet that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and on the other pay us poverty wages and fail to provide sick days and adequate PPE,” said Angely Rodriguez Lambert, an Oakland McDonald’s worker, said in a statement. “We’re going on strike because McDonald’s and other fast-food companies have failed to protect us in a pandemic that has ravaged Black and brown communities across the country.”

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately devastated Black people, who are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white people. While Black people are only 13% of the American population, they make up 23% of total COVID-19 deaths where the race is known, according to the COVID Tracking Project. At least 27,875 Black Americans have died due to COVID-19, thus far. 

Black people are also more likely to work frontline jobs, like those in the food, nursing, psychiatric, and home health sector, putting them at particular risk of contracting the virus. 

RELATED: The Risk of Reopening Schools Is Far Greater for Black and Brown Americans

“Here in Detroit, us nursing home workers are at the center of the COVID-19 crisis. We’re putting our lives on the line every single day without proper PPE, paid sick days or safe staffing levels,” said Trece Andrews, a nursing home worker from Detroit, Michigan.

Andrews, a 49-year-old single mother, said the lack of adequate PPE at her workplace makes her worried that she’ll bring COVID-19 home to her daughter and her father, a cancer survivor who she helps take care of as well. She also feels dejected because she has repeatedly been passed over for promotions and believes her race had something to do with it. 

“I’ve got 20 years in the game and I’m only at $15.81 (per hour),” she told the AP. 

Andrews’ inability to get a raise may seem unrelated to the killing of George Floyd, but striking workers say they’re derived from the same basic issue. 

“Even before George Floyd’s life was so horrifically taken, the ‘normal’ everyone keeps talking about going back to wasn’t working for us. From racially motivated attacks to being forced to go to work without protective equipment or hazard pay in the name of the economy, our lives have not been valued,” said Glen Brown, an airport wheelchair attendant in Minneapolis. “We cannot go back to that. We must move forward.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.