July 24, 2020

Strike Watch: Voices from the Strike for Black Lives

Photo: Gus Moody and his co-workers in Lakeland, FL.

PIctured left: Gus and his co-workers in Lakeland, FL during the J20 Strike for Black Lives. Photo Credit: Fight for 15 Florida. 

Hundreds of workers walked out of work from coast to coast Monday, July 20th as part of coordinated Strike 4 Black Lives. Centering the Movement 4 Black Lives and 60-plus labor and community organizations, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the strike (dubbed J20) included both full walkouts and 8 minute 46 second work stoppages commemorating the killing of George Floyd by police. Workers came from a range of “essential” industries, including mobile “gig”, healthcare, fast food, education, childcare and janitorial. While there were unified national demands that included the right to unionize and real corporate action to protect Black workers and repair intergenerational harms, many groups also tied in the need for tailored local responses challenging racial and economic inequality, including in response to specific and systematic discrimination incidents.

In Florida, McDonald’s workers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the days prior charging that the company subjected them to a "racially hostile work environment” and retaliation for speaking up. One of the workers named in the suit, Monice, is employed in a Lakeland McDonald’s, east of Tampa. She described in a video: “Back in March, I was racially discriminated against: she... told me that all Black people want is a handout. All we do is smoke weed all day and be violent, angry and upset if we don’t get what we want.” Monica clearly and calmly explained her situation, only to be then told “...but you know I’m right.” The company had been also sued in Florida in April for systemic sexual harassment, with plaintiffs from more than 100 of the locations in the state.

FJE had the opportunity to interview Augusta (who goes by Gus), another Lakeland McDonald's worker and a leader of the SEIU-backed Fight for 15 Florida who took the streets on the 20th. Alongside challenging discrimination via the lawsuit, Gus and workers are looking to pass Florida's Amendment 2, the $15 Minimum Wage Initiative, which is on the ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment this November.  Amendment 2 would increase the state's minimum wage from $8.56 in 2020 to $15.00 by 2026. Gus shared a bit about his experiences in the central Florida McDonald's where he works and what it means to be a Black worker in the US today.

What brought you to take part in the Strike for Black Lives this week?

Honestly, I want to end racism and workplace hostility and discrimination. I see the connections to racism in everyday action. In today’s society, racism looks like how you go about doing your everyday routine and treat people along the way.

For example, in my job, racial discrimination looks like when you are scheduled outside of your availability, and you go talk to your General Manager. She acts like she doesn’t have your availability at hand, and tells you to re-do your availability sheet. You do that, and she snatches the paper out of your hand, and treats you with disrespect.

Florida’s minimum wage is $8.46. I get paid $9.25. After this pandemic and really not being able to get the hours I could usually make or need — that makes life hard. You have to choose: what bill am I going to pay? I have two children I’m responsible for, and I want to give them my all. It hurts to not be able to do that. I feel like if I could make more, I could make things better for them. Maybe not great, but at least better.

What was the J20 strike like for you?

The day of the strike, we rode around the building and made our presence known: by stepping out there, out of work, we were saying, enough is enough. Do us right.

A good amount of people that showed up to support the strike and showed love. Just to be able to see those people meant a lot. I met was a lot of people willing to help — stopping to say, ‘Hey man, you need something to eat? Don’t hesitate to call me.’ I’m not saying I would take them up on it — but just them offering, and they don’t even know me? That’s what America should be about; that’s what we can be about as a country. They could have been somewhere else — but then they came to support strangers as part of a movement. They see the racism and discrimination every day on social media, on the news, they could just ignore us — so it was truly amazing to have so many people out.

Say it’s one year from now. What does success look like? How have things changed at work?

The workplace would be friendly: it would be an open from the top to the bottom. If I’m the CEO I wouldn’t feel like my position is too big to come talk to the crew trainer or the crew members. I would want there to be an equal playing ground in the workplace. General managers wouldn’t be abusing their positions because they would know someone above them would actually be holding them accountable.

What was the response from your employers at McDonald's?

For some of my coworkers that went back the next day they have been really experiencing a hard time. In America, we get punished these days for giving our opinion, for using our freedom of speech.  You can’t let it bring you down though. You have to keep saying: this isn’t right. This was my first big action, but I’lll be doing much more. Having so many organizations having your back and saying, ‘You know what, we’re not going to stand for this. This story needs to be told' — that’s an amazing feeling to have. Just being a part of [a movement] makes it all worth it.

Where do you see the connections between what you experience in your workplace and the situation with policing of Black lives?

Just like you can’t be a general manager and abuse your crew members, you can’t have someone that is there to protect and serve you end up hurting you, or end up putting you in jail for trumped up charges. The police just feel like they can just put you in jail because they have that authority, that privilege. Just like a general manager, law enforcement needs to be held to a better standard. They are the people we have to walk our communities. They are supposed to be here to help us and not just come to the situation ready to hurt us. They should not be able to hurt, harm and kill. What it comes down to though is all these people in power — they are abusing that power. That abuse goes on at a larger scale in society, but it starts in everyday life.

How do you think foundations and individuals can support?

Action is a big thing for me: you can’t just say you care. You have to show it. You have to really prove when the situation arises that you are here to really get us to better days. To get there is going to take a lot of work. We’re all going to keep having to put it in. It should have all changed day George Floyd died — yet America is still running on retaliation, discrimination and hatred.

Enough is enough. We already have a global pandemic. To continue to live as a Black person in America you not only a face a pandemic, you have society attacking you as well. We are going to have to stand together because at the end of the day, we all are going to need each other.  We need to do better in life and focus on what is right. 

And when the change comes, our workplace will be a much better organization to the public and to each other. Keeping [the strikes and actions] going is raising some eyebrows and gets people to understand, things need to change, today.

You can follow Gus and his fellow workers' continued campaign for the Fight for 15 nationally and locally  And read more about how to support the broader Movement for Black Lives here.

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future installments? Reach out to robert@nfg.org.

 

September 4, 2020

Strike Watch, Labor Day: Vonda McDaniel on Workers Redefining “Nash-Vegas” and Taking on Power in Tennessee

Earlier this summer, we had the fortune to sit down with Central Labor Council (CLC) of Nashville & Middle Tennessee President Vonda McDaniel. McDaniel gave us key insights – shared in this Strike Watch interview -  into the critical organizing led by food processing workers hard-hit in unsafe meatpacking plants in the region and throughout the US as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.  But meatpacking is not the only place workers are rising up in the Nashville area – where organizations are redefining Black and migrant-led labor organizing in new and important ways.

As we honor the many essential workers on the front lines of our economy this Labor Day, FJE presents our continued conversation with Council President McDaniel. She shares below about important new organizing across retail, urban development, healthcare and more to ensure the growing “Nash-Vegas” actually works for local communities, especailly as Tennessee sped to re-opening. In partnership with NFG’s Amplify Fund, we will be dialoguing more deeply about groundbreaking work in Nashville in our upcoming Virtual Learning to Nashville September 21-23, 2020. We encourage funders to register here and join us as we meet with Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance, and of course, McDaniel and the CLC – and engage with film, music, and more to get a sense of the critical work in this changing Southern economic hub and its implications for worker power across the US.

There’s been a lot of attention to the South in regards to re-opening and the effects of COVID-19. We’ve talked a bit about the important crisis in meatpacking in central Tennessee. How have workers been responding and organizing in Nashville more broadly?

Nashville has become an East Coast entertainment hub - they call it “Nash-vegas” right?  And so hospitality is really the growth industry in the city, alongside health care.  The hospitality workers, mostly in restaurants and some in hotels, have been organizing. In fact some have started to reached out to Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and have started a Nashville (Music City) chapter.  As we were reopening the economy, the press wanted to know what restaurant workers were feeling about it. What the workers saw were the dangers, and we've been working with them. [ROC Music City – a Stand Up Nashville partner - has also recently brought to light individual businesses that were hiding COVID-19 exposure, and won protections for workers in these small businesses.] It's really exciting to see the growth opportunity there in terms of organizing.

In health care, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center they didn't have enough staff when COVID hit so the company brought in temporary workers. The workers – the nurses - demanded that they get hazard pay because they saw that the temps were getting paid more. So we've seen collective action there.

In the dollar stores - both Family Dollar and Dollar General - because they cram so much cheap merchandise in the stores, there’s not a lot of room for social distancing. In many cases they're not providing the Personal Protective Equipment. When they bring their own mask we had reports that workers are told not to wear them – even when they're the homemade mask that they bring. Those workers have created a Facebook group and are really beginning to organize here and in other places. They have even reached out to those workers that have unionized In New Orleans to talk about what the differences in are in those stores and what they need to do to get a union in here, in Tennessee. [Dollar General staff in conversation with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 and speaking out about hazard pay were also targeted for firing by the company.]

One of the big issues in the South (and the Midwest) is the way conservative state governments have sought to stop everything from minimum wages to abortion through their power of pre-emption. How is this playing out in Nashville in this time?

Especially in this moment COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges for our local government. Because of that there are things that they cannot do like paid sick leave, like property tax freezes. We're in a moment where our economy was based on sales tax which has gone to nothing, and so the revenue streams are just not what they need to be. In order to keep essential services running they have to raise property taxes, but all of the tools that local governments have to try to help in this moment have been stripped by state preemption. We've been preempted over and over again. We tried to pass living wage ordinance. We passed it; it was preempted. We passed on a ballot measure - local hire - so that we could hire local workers on public projects. That was passed by the voters of the county; it was preempted.

Those in state power have been using preemption to prevent cities from being able to do the things that they consider important to help their citizens. So we have a coalition across the state that has come together, that has been trying to run a campaign to put pressure on the governor to use his emergency powers to take action and make sure that at least in this moment that preemption is not an issue. The campaign gives us an opportunity to talk about what preemption is and how it's impacted our ability to help the residents of Nashville. I know it will continue beyond this pandemic and will only become more important to confront.

How do workers fit in the bigger picture of a changing Nashville, and the unprecedented development the city has been experiencing?

Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. [In a telling incident this June, a 16 year old Latinx worker died falling off a scaffolding, building a new development in Nashville, with no safety harness and questionable safety practices by the company.]

"Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. "

We have been able to work with our building trades affiliates to create an apprenticeship readiness program to recruit folks out of what they call the “promise zones” and give them the skills necessary to be successful in the federally registered apprenticeship programs and the union apprenticeship programs.  Our Central Labor Council has been a partner with that, and it's been interesting because in building that work, we've created a table that has faith partners working with us. The ecosystem is really coming together, and most of the recruits for our last class came from our faith partners. We've been able to develop relationships with the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship which is the African-American ministers fellowship at Vanderbilt Divinity School. They recruited them out of the churches: the ministers knew they had returning citizens in their congregation that really needed a path to a different life. In reaching the immigrant community we had the Catholic Labor Network which was also really instrumental in helping us to really build a very diverse class also in our Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) program.

Stand Up Nashville, with the CLC is part of, along with a few of our unions and Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), have been able to really move on the policy side to increase their presence and power for working families.

How have you resourced this significant growth in labor and community organizing?

You know, it's constant.  We are really trying to organize and build, and we really feel like that in Nashville we have set the table for growth for workers. We're excited about it - we have been trying to build infrastructure here for at least the last six to eight years.

But we find ourselves trying to having to chase funding in order to continue to do the work. The folks that oppose us, they don't have those barriers.  They have sustained funding for long periods of time - it really doesn't even matter whether they're successful and accomplish the benchmarks. We really have not had that kind of investment on our side, so we have to spend a great deal of your capacity right now on that.  Our CLC is in fundraising cycle; the reason is we have staffed up a level. We went from an all-volunteer organization to one with three staff. I mean, that's not a lot, but in order to be able to do and work with the community partners, keep up with what's happening in our local government, cultivate partnerships and organize you know that takes resources – the kind that it is very difficult to find funding for. We continue to look for ways to get investment in the work because we feel like that that, over time, there is definitely a return on that investment. You can see the growth in terms of all of the varied projects that people are working on that are part of our network, particularly in this moment.

Why is it important for those interested in economic justice to pay attention to Nashville at this moment?

You know there's a saying that however the South goes so goes the nation. Whatever is really bad in the South - if we cannot improve it here then eventually, it's going to trickle to the rest of the country. History has shown us that. Folks really should understand that what we do in the South, in terms of organizing, in terms of politics, in terms of all the things that we need to change in the economy - if we can't make change on the issues that matter in the South, then how will me make national change? This is a test ground for what happens across the country. But we are movinig to make that change.

*Photo Credit: Nashville CLC.

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

August 4, 2020

A Letter from IRSG Members in Honor of Isabel Arrollo

Dear Friends,

Isabel smiling and reaching up to a fruit tree in an orchard.On May 16, 2020, we lost a fierce, beloved leader in California’s Central Valley, Isabel Arrollo. Isabel was the Executive Director of El Quinto Sol de America, an organization founded by her mother, Irma Medellin, based in Lindsay, California. Isabel’s passion and strong strategic lens helped grow El Quinto Sol into a driving force for change in the Central Valley. From her early teenage years, Isabel worked at her mother’s side, lifting up community voices in local and state decision-making, and supporting residents across Tulare County’s unincorporated communities by connecting youth to arts and cultural work, and uplifting the tools to build civic participation and political power in the community. In recent years, her passion and vision to create an Agroecology Center in the Central Valley has lit a flame — one that we need to keep aglow.

In addition to the collective deep grief and sadness at this time, we are also angry and frustrated by the accumulated conditions of environmental, economic, and racial injustices that facilitated the process of her passing. We understand that extractive systems like industrial agriculture, subsidies that perpetuate land tenureship rooted in the forced migration of peoples and Beings, the exploitation of workers, and the polluting of the water she bathed in and the air she gasped onto holding onto the hope of survival and thriving of her people and their knowledge, are responsible for her illness of Valley fever, her death, and for the displacement of life of her future lineages. This racially targeting phenomenon is a form of prolonged violence, and as allies and co-conspirators in the struggle for justice, we need to show up to defend our neighbors and human relations.

We honor the life labor Isabel held as an organizer and community member, which went far beyond her role as Director at El Quinto Sol. She supported her community every day, and also invited folks outside of the community to witness and learn about the issues that are often invisibilized via the dust of pesticides and toxins, and the shadows of the fields. This included hosting funder tours for our philanthropic community during which she generously extended her energy to educate visitors and allies on the intersection of issue areas, and with great skill found multiple ways to illuminate the work for a wider audience, and moved us toward a tangible transition of wealth and power. She did this even while her health was failing; she did it for the livelihood and wellness of her people and her community.

Losing Isabel is heartbreaking, and our hearts are with her family, her co-workers at EQS, her wide and diverse network of friends and co-conspirators, and the many folks she mentored and stood beside every day, including youth and mixed documentation status farmworker communities. She dedicated her life to protecting the health of our air, water, soil, and peoples. Isabel was a brilliant visionary who helped lead the Community Alliance for Agroecology, and held such beautiful, powerful dreams for transforming the Central Valley’s food and farming systems from the ground up. Isabel will be forever remembered as a fierce advocate and as our caring and thoughtful friend who always made time to listen and offer words of encouragement, joy, and laughter. In this global moment of so much pain, loss and fear, we are called to action to uplift the voice and vision of leaders like Isabel, and carry them forward.

We ask that you seriously and thoughtfully consider these two requests:

  1. Isabel speaking to a group in front of a neighborhood bus stop.Make a contribution at this moment, at whatever level, to the environmental health and justice — and agroecological — organization, El Quinto Sol. The contact there is Olga Marquez, olga@elquintosoldeamerica.org.
  2. Become a funder accomplice in achieving Isabel’s and others’ dreams in the San Joaquin Valley — join us in support of the creation of an Agroecology Training Center, by and for a collective of Latinx and Indigenous farmworking families, Indigenous people from the region, and other family farmers. El Quinto Sol, as well as other groups like the Community Alliance for Agroecology, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Foodlink Tulare County, Quaker Oaks Farm, and Central Valley Partnership are moving forward in their visioning and planning, and seek collaboration with funding partners, especially in this moment.

If you would like to learn more about El Quinto Sol and the Agroecology Training Center, or if you are interested in collaborating with us as we move forward, please reach out to one of us (contacts below).

In the meantime, read inspiring coverage of the work of El Quinto Sol here: https://civileats.com/2019/08/12/this-mother-daughter-team-is-building-new-leaders-in-californias-farm-country/
 

Thank you, and be well,

Paola Diaz (paola@11thhourproject.org)

Marni Rosen (marni@colibrigiving.com)

Sarah Bell (sarah@11thhourproject.org)

Kat Gilje (gilje@cerestrust.org)

Kassandra Hishida (kassandrahishida@allianceforagroecology.org)