NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of workers rallied Monday outside the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan and the Massachusetts Statehouse to protest systemic racism and economic inequality — an effort that organizers hoped would grow into a nationwide strike in which tens of thousands of people walked off the job.
Dubbed the “Strike for Black Lives,” the protest was organized by labor unions and social and racial justice organizations, which planned a range of actions in more than two dozen U.S. cities. Where work stoppages are not possible for a full day, participants expected to picket during a lunch break or observe moments of silence to honor Black lives lost to police violence, organizers said.
About 1,500 janitors in San Francisco walked off their jobs and planned to lead a march to City Hall later in the day, according to Fight for $15, a labor group that supports raising the U.S. minimum wage to $15 an hour. McDonald’s cooks and cashiers in Los Angeles and nursing home workers in St. Paul were also striking, the group said.
The strikers were to include delivery men and women, fast food employees, ride-share and airport workers.
In Manhattan, more than 150 union workers rallied outside Trump International Hotel to demand that the Senate and President Donald Trump adopt the HEROES Act, which provides protective equipment, essential pay and extended unemployment benefits to workers who have not had the option of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. It has already been passed by the House.
Rally participants held signs that read, “Black Lives Matter,” “Racism is a public health crisis” and “Unions for all.”
“Today, we’re here to demand from those in power, including the man whose name adorns the building, that it’s time to dismantle white supremacy and combat police brutality,” said Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ, a union representing more than 170,000 office janitors, security workers and doormen on the East Coast.
“Until we have racial justice we cannot have economic, climate or immigrant justice,” Bragg said.
In Massachusetts, about 200 people, including health care workers, janitors and other essential employees, joined Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in front of the Statehouse in Boston.
“We’re just being overworked and underpaid, and it makes you sometimes lose your compassion,” said Toyai Anderson, 44, who planned to walk off her job as a nursing aide for two hours at Hartford Nursing and Rehab Center in Detroit. “It makes me second guess if I am sure this is my calling.”
After 13 years on the job, Anderson makes $15.75 an hour. Nationally, the typical nursing aide makes $13.38, according to health care worker advocacy group PCI, and 1 in 4 nursing home workers is Black.
Hundreds of other workers were expected to walk off their jobs at six Detroit nursing homes, according to the Service Employees International Union. The workers are demanding higher wages and more safety equipment to keep them from catching and spreading the virus, as well as better health care benefits and paid sick leave.
The strike continues an ongoing global reckoning on race and police brutality set off by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May. At noon in each U.S. time zone on Monday, workers are expected to take a knee for about eight minutes — the amount of time prosecutors say a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck.
“We are … building a country where Black lives matter in every aspect of society — including in the workplace,” said Ash-Lee Henderson, an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of over 150 organizations that make up the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The Strike for Black Lives is a moment of reckoning for corporations that have long ignored the concerns of their Black workforce and denied them better working conditions, living wages and healthcare,” said Henderson, who is also co-executive director of the Tennessee-based Highlander Research and Education Center.
In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed on May 25, strikers will include nursing home and airport workers demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage, organizers said. In Missouri, participants will rally at McDonald’s locations in St. Louis and Ferguson, a landmark in the protest movement sparked by the death of Michael Brown, a Black teenager who was killed by police in 2014. The Ferguson strikers will also march to a memorial site located on the spot where Brown was shot and killed.
Strikers are demanding sweeping action by corporations and government to confront systemic racism and economic inequality that limits mobility and career advancement for many Black and Hispanic workers, who make up a disproportionate number of those earning less than a living wage.
Specifically, they are calling on corporate leaders and elected government officials to use executive and legislative power to guarantee people of all races can thrive. That demand includes raising wages and allowing workers to unionize to negotiate better health care, sick leave and child care support.
Justice Favor, 38, an organizer with the Laborers’ International Union Local 79, which represents 10,000 predominately Black and Hispanic construction workers in New York City, said he hopes that the strike motivates more white workers to acknowledge the existence of racism and discrimination in the workplace.
“There was a time when the Irish and Italians were a subjugated people, too,” said Favor, who is Black. “How would you feel if you weren’t able to fully assimilate into society? Once you have an open mind, you have to call out your coworkers who are doing wrong to others.”
When the strike was announced on July 8, partnering unions included the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers, United Farm Workers and Fight for $15. Several more worker collectives have since joined, along with social and racial justice groups.
Associated Press writers Bernard Condon in New York and Philip Marcelo in Boston contributed to this report.