Madison, Milwaukee groups join in observing Strike for Black Lives

    Health workers kneel for Black Lives
    Health care workers and supporters kneel outside Meriter Hospital in Madison on Monday to protest the police killing of George Floyd and to show solidarity with the nationwide Strike for Black Lives. (Erik Gunn | Wisconsin Examiner)

    Hospital workers knelt in silence in Madison and fast food workers walked out in Milwaukee as a coalition of unions and community activists marked the Strike for Black Lives across the country on Monday.

    Actions were planned in more than 25 cities, organizers said, with participants including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Teamsters and several other unions, along with the Movement for Black Lives, the Poor People’s Campaign, the U.S. Youth Climate Strike Coalition, and other activist groups.

    “The #Strike4BlackLives is also designed to help unite the labor movement and the Black Lives Movement,” reporter Mike Elk explained recently on his independent, online labor news site Payday Report.

    In Milwaukee, about 150 people marched and rallied outside a McDonald’s outlet on Milwaukee’s North Side. McDonald’s workers and employees of Popeyes Chicken  walked off the job as part of the protest, a spokesperson for the group said. Participants occupied a drive-thru and parking lot at the McDonald’s, kneeling in silence to mark the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

    Madison’s observance included a car caravan on the city’s East Side Monday afternoon. Earlier in the afternoon, four-dozen health care workers and supporters, many of them SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin members employed at Meriter Hospital, gathered outside the hospital at shift change to mark the event.

    After giving a brief speech, organizer Michael Elvord, an environmental services worker at the hospital and a union representative, led the group as they knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that a police officer held Floyd on the ground with a knee on his neck until Floyd died.

    “All over the country there are health care workers and service sector workers who are going on strike,” Elvord explained before the event. The Meriter union was not striking, however, he added. “We just want to show our solidarity with union members who are striking in other cities [as part of the action], to show that we are in step with what is happening.”

    Workers’ rights and the rights of Black people that are being lifted up by recent protests are intertwined, he said, and many in healthcare and other service jobs are people of color who seek equal treatment and greater economic justice. “We’re all in this together.”

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    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.