Marcos Aranda is a janitor in San Francisco whose single paycheck has been supporting his wife, his six kids, and his extended family after his wife was laid off in March. Two months ago, Aranda spoke before a Congressional subcommittee to address his fear of losing his job.
“I have heard of union janitors like me, over 25,000 across the country, who have been laid off despite being essential,” Aranda said at the hearing. “And my company just laid off 200 workers in one day. I have no idea if I’ll have a job in a week or two.”
Today, Aranda was one of 1,500 janitorial workers represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 87 who participated in an unfair labor practice strike in San Francisco. They demand personal protective equipment, alerts for when co-workers test positive for COVID-19, and negotiations between SEIU and employer Able Services to ensure the health and safety of janitorial workers. View photos from the demonstration below:
Striking janitors gathered at 415 Mission Street for a press conference before marching to City Hall. During the march, janitorial workers stopped to take a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer was believed to have knelt on George Floyd’s neck before (prosecutors have since said the exact length of time is unclear).
Once at City Hall, participants joined with union members and supporters for a rally.
The San Francisco strike, however, was not a solitary action — today, thousands of workers from different lines of work took to the streets in over 25 cities across the United States as part of the Strike for Black Lives.
Protestors and strikers are demanding that governments and corporations immediately address COVID-19-related safety concerns, racism as well as systemic and economic inequalities, according to a press release from SEIU.
The strike is specifically targeting large corporations like McDonald’s, Amazon, Uber and Lyft.
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is the executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center which supports grassroots efforts in their fight for justice and equality. Woodard Henderson spoke during a Facebook Live event organized by SEIU about how corporate giants like Walmart and McDonalds “profit off of racial injustice and inequality.”
“When uprisings began across this country in May […] so many corporations were quick to declare their support for Black Lives Matter — we saw the commercials, we saw the Instagram posts,” Woodard Henderson said. “But these exact same corporations whose profits are made from the exploitation of Black workers have done little to shift their actual policies.”
Yeon Park, a member of Alameda County’s SEIU Local 1021, also spoke during the livestream, addressing how frontline workers of color are disproportionately affected by the virus.
“They are serving the community and saving lives and [they] shouldn’t have to work for their basic protective equipment,” Park said.
The strike has already received international support, including from UNI Global Union, which represents workers in 150 different countries. SEIU’s Facebook Live event broadcast messages of support from Germany, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
The Strike for Black Lives represents a significant partnership between major unions and grassroots and social justice groups. As Vox’s coverage of the protests noted, the collaboration is unique because “labor unions don’t always act in concert, let alone partner with grassroots and social justice groups.”
In addition to SEIU, other participating organizations include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers, Fight for $15 and a Union, United Farm Workers, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance — as well as the Movement for Black Lives, the Poor People’s Campaign and others.
Participating workers represent a variety of workforce backgrounds. They include fast food and airport employees, drivers, teachers, nurses, and nursing home caregivers, along with Google engineers.
Chewy Shaw, a Google engineer in Fremont, California and one of the creators of Google Against Racism, said via SEIU’s Facebook Live event that Google’s response to the George Floyd protests felt “very tone deaf.” As of now, there are 950 individuals in the Google Against Racism group.
Around the U.S., strikes were held in cities including North Carolina, Massachusetts and New York. In Manhattan, over 150 union workers protested outside the Trump International Hotel demanding that the Senate and the president adopt the HEROES Act, already passed by the House, which would allocate additional federal aid to millions of Americans.
Workers who were unable to strike participated in a job walk-out lasting 8 minutes and 46 seconds, according to Vox.
Speaking on the livestream, Aranda said the Strike for Black Lives is a perfect example of how labor movements and civil movements “go hand in hand.”
“We need the proper PPE — I’m lucky to have it, but not everybody is lucky,” Aranda said.
“We need equality. And we [have] to make it understood that Black lives matter.”
Hannah Holzer is an intern covering news and culture.