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Thousands of union workers on July 20 are expected to participate in Strike for Black Lives, a protest intended to put a spotlight on racism and police brutality.
The strike is being organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents nearly 2 million service workers. Mary Kay Henry, the international president of the SEIU told Fortune that the strike is intended to highlight the economic plight of service workers, many of whom are people of color.
During the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, her union was concerned about how essential workers were being treated on the front lines. Some lacked access to personal protective equipment, or PPE, that would help them avoid contracting COVID-19.
The death of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd while in police custody “escalated the case we were trying to make” about the mistreatment of Black people.
“We hope to gain that corporations and governments will understand the need to dismantle racist policies and make sure every family has a living wage and is able to be healthy and safe,” Henry said.
Who’s participating in the strike?
Unions and civil rights groups planning to participate in the strike include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers, Fight for $15 and a Union, United Food and Commercial Workers, Greenpeace, MoveOn, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Ride-sharing drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft are also expected to join in.
Law enforcement unions will not participate. However, Henry said she hasn’t faced any pushback from them and that some unions representing correctional and probation officers “actually understand that there is systemic inequality that has to be addressed.”
When and where is the strike taking place?
The strike will take place at different times depending on the city and location. Some of the 25 cities include Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, and Houston. In Los Angeles, for example, workers will gather in cars as part of a caravan beginning at a local McDonald’s. They’ll then drive through the city, stopping by places like the University of Southern California, where organizers said they’ll “demand the nation’s second-largest school district and the University drop their use of the LAPD on campuses.”
For workers who are unable to strike, the organizers urge them to walk off of their jobs at noon for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time initially believed that a police officer held George Floyd in a neck hold (since then, prosecutors have said the exact length of time is unclear).
During the strike, workers will also be asked to reflect on the deaths of other Black people killed by law enforcement, including Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain, organizers said. Workers who are not present for the strike will be able to watch on a livestream.
“That’s a way for people who are sheltering in place to witness what is happening in the country,” Henry said.
Why are the organizers singling out McDonald’s?
The strike’s organizers specifically cite McDonald’s as a company that needs to change its employment policies. Henry said it pays poverty-level wages to at least half of its workforce of over 800,000 who are people of color.
Bettie Douglas, a Black McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, told Fortune that while she’s been working at a local McDonald’s for 14 years, she feels she isn’t being paid as much as she deserves and is worried about contracting COVID-19 while at work. Douglas, who is 62, said she has “no benefits, no vacation, no 401K—no nothing but hard times.”
That said, Douglas said she doesn’t “have any hatred” for McDonald’s management, and instead just wants the executives to “meet us at the table.” “I love McDonald’s!” said Douglas. “I work hard for McDonald’s.”
McDonald’s said in a statement that it stands with “Black communities across the globe” and has taken a number of measures to ensure the safety of its employees, like distributing “an ample supply of PPE with no supply breaks, including gloves and over 100 million masks, in addition to installing protective barriers in restaurants.”
“We are confident the vast majority of employees are covered with sick pay if they are impacted by COVID-19,” the company said in a statement. “To further show appreciation, franchisees have awarded bonuses and raises to employees and provided additional health and financial resources.”
What is the strike is supposed to accomplish?
The strike is intended to put more attention on low-wage workers who risk their lives but struggle to pay their bills. Although major companies pledge support for the Black Lives Matter movement, they pay their workers low wages, fail to provide paid time off while sick and in some cases, fail to provide the necessary equipment to keep them healthy on the job, Henry said. “Most workers are infuriated by it because it’s so hypocritical,” Henry said.
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