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Strike for Black Lives: WA Workers Stand Up to Racism

Protests have been ongoing since George Floyd's death in May. (JP Photography/Adobe Stock)
Protests have been ongoing since George Floyd's death in May. (JP Photography/Adobe Stock)
July 20, 2020

SEATTLE -- Across the country, workers on Monday are striking for Black lives.

Striking workers span industries, including fast food restaurants, health care and hospitals.

Some plan to walk off at noon for eight minutes and 46 seconds -- the length of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is widely believed to have had his knee on George Floyd's neck.

Penny Brooks, a patient care coordinator at University of Washington Medicine, says she's experienced racism at her job. She says she had to jump through hoops her white coworkers didn't to work from home during this pandemic.

"I had to write a letter to justify my condition, what I can do from home, when you have all the white people in my job to the whole HR working from home," she states. "So I'm facing systemic racism right now as of today."

The strikes are being coordinated by the Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers and other unions and organizations. Brooks is a member of SEIU local 925.

The University of Washington Medicine did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Darryl Johnson, a caregiver in Tacoma with SEIU 775, says he's been racially profiled by police multiple times. He notes the issue of racial justice is linked to economic justice in the workplace.

"It's intertwined," he states. "It's pretty much the same thing because you can't have one without the other. You can't have racial justice, social justice without it all combining."

Johnson says this moment feels different, with protests happening around the world. Even within his union, he says there are teach-ins on racial justice.

"I never sat around and did nothing like that," he relates. "That's a change, too, with everybody sitting at the table and everybody's getting together, coming together to help make a change, to help make a difference."

Brooks still is trying to make a change in her workplace. She's fighting to get more equity for her and her Black colleagues.

"I'm hoping something comes out of it," she says. "I don't know if I still have my job, but at the end I don't mind. If it's going to make a change within the organization, I would be happy."

Disclosure: SEIU 775 and SEIU Washington State Council contribute to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Education, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA