Essential Workers Are on Strike Today to Support Black Lives

The protest is also demanding protections for workers most at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Protests Continue In Philadelphia In Response To Death Of George Floyd In Minneapolis
Protesters march in front of a Philadelphia, PA, McDonald's restaurant on June 1, 2020. Photo: Mark Makela / Stringer/Getty Images

Essential workers from across the country are on strike today amid ongoing protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Members of various unions and supporters spanning the hospitality, janitorial, elder care, and restaurant industries are expected to walk off the job as part of the Strike for Black Lives in order to make a statement about protections for Black citizens and also the safety of service industry workers. An exact count of striking workers isn't yet known, but the number is expected to be in the tens of thousands across of dozens of U.S. cities, per NBC 4 New York. In some cases, the workday may not be interrupted, however, and employees may opt to picket or protest during lunch breaks or observe moments of silence.

The strike is led by the Service Employee International Union (SEIU), which has a history of organizing unionization efforts among fast food workers. That group is being joined by other labor unions, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, and United Farm Workers, among over 50 organizations listed on the event website.

Key demands of the strike (per the same website) include wage increases (to $15 per hour), healthcare benefits, and recognizing the right to unionize—all longstanding criticisms of industries including businesses like restaurants, fast food chains, and grocery stores, which have come under increased scrutiny as such work has been deemed "essential" during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting those employees at further and increased risk of infection. To that point, the demands also include provisions requiring employers to provide adequate PPE gear and support or relief for employees who have lost their jobs due to illness or economic downturn during the pandemic.

McDonald's, which has been targeted by a federal lawsuit in Florida over racially-hostile work environments, will be the site of protests in St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri. “We stand with Black communities across the globe in our commitment to address unacceptable racial injustices and are disappointed that these allegations do not reflect the high standards we hold ourselves accountable to every day across all areas of our business,” a statement from the company read in response to the lawsuit. The brand had previously expressed its support of Black citizens after the death of George Floyd.

Despite the strike and affiliated protests demanding increased coronavirus protections for workers and occurring during a national spike in reported COVID-19 cases, previous protest gatherings were not indicated as a significant factor in spreading the virus.

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