She’s a shift leader at McDonald’s but still makes just $9 an hour, even though she says some of her peers make $11. “Working three jobs, it’s not enough to cover rent, water, and food,” she said. “I still have to find another way to make those ends meet.” Sometimes that means there’s no food in the house. “I would go without eating to make sure my kids eat,” she said.
That was before the pandemic. Now things are even more difficult. She said McDonald’s didn’t provide her with protective equipment or force customers to wear masks. Edie has diabetes and high blood pressure, putting her at higher risk of complications from the coronavirus, but she had to keep working to make sure her family had enough money to pay the rent and buy food. Then one of her coworkers recently got sick. A few days ago she felt very ill herself, struggling to breathe. She tested positive for Covid-19.
“I’M VERY SCARED RIGHT NOW. MY LIGHTS CAN GO OFF, I CAN’T PAY RENT.”
That means she’s now out of work, at home isolating from her family. She’s not getting paid leave from any of her jobs. “I’m very scared right now,” she said. “My lights can go off, I can’t pay rent.”
In response to a request for comment, a McDonald’s representative said in a statement, “McDonald’s enhanced over 50 processes in restaurants. McDonald’s and our franchisees distributed an ample supply of PPE [personal protective equipment] 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.”
Being home sick with Covid-19 won’t keep Edie from participating in the Strike for Black Lives, though, which she plans to do over FaceTime. On Monday, July 20, tens of thousands of workers from a variety of lines of work in more than 25 cities will go on strike to demand that the corporations they work for and the government that’s supposed to work for them confront systemic racism.
Fast food workers like Edie will be joined by an enormous swath of the workforce: other low-wage workers like airport employees, ride-hail drivers, nursing home caregivers, and domestic workers alongside middle-class teachers and nurses and even high-paid Google engineers. Those who can’t strike the whole day will walk off the job for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a white police officer kept his knee on Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s neck before he died.
It’s a massive action that will bring together major unions as well as grassroots organizers. The Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and American Federation of Teachers will join forces with the Fight for 15, United Farm Workers, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Social justice organizations, such as the Movement for Black Lives, Poor People’s Campaign, and youth climate organizers will also participate. It represents a unique partnership: Labor unions don’t always act in concert, let alone partner with grassroots and social justice groups.
But demand for putting together such an action came from the bottom: workers who have been activated by the toll of the pandemic and the massive uprisings against racial injustice and police violence across the country. They see these things as inextricable.
“Across the country, people are gaining a new understanding that it is impossible to win economic justice without racial justice. That health care for all, fair immigration policies, and bold action on climate change all require racial justice,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU. “This is a unique and hopeful moment in our movement’s history, because in organizing this strike with our partners, we found broad acceptance and acclamation that now is the time to take large-scale action to demand that corporations and government do more to dismantle structural racism and protect Black lives. We are all clear that until Black communities can thrive, none of us can.”
Edie says on top of low pay, as a Black woman she’s also had to deal with racism. She sees her ordeal reflected in the struggles of the other workers who will go on strike. “We … are in the same boat,” Edie said. “Because we all are essential workers and we all are fighting for the same things.”
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