Unions representing millions of workers, from teachers to truck drivers, pledged to ramp up protests in the leadup to the presidential election, with walkouts aimed at forcing local and federal lawmakers to pass police reform and address what they described as systemic racism.
In a statement first shared with The Associated Press on Saturday, labor leaders from America's biggest public and private sector unions said they would organize walkouts for teachers, autoworkers, truck drivers and clerical staff, among others.
“The status quo — of police killing Black people, of armed white nationalists killing demonstrators, of millions sick and increasingly desperate — is clearly unjust, and it cannot continue,” says the statement from several branches of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, and affiliates of the National Education Association.
AFSCME, SEIU, and NEA include liberal membership that typically votes Democrat by margins as high as 80%.
The latest development comes after a summer of protest nationwide from youths to athletes. Some of the protests have turned violent, with rioting and looting in several cities.
“They remind us that when we strike to withhold our labor, we have the power to bring an unjust status quo to a grinding halt,” the union leaders said in the statement.
“We echo the call to local and federal government to divest from the police, to redistribute the stolen wealth of the billionaire class, and to invest in what our people need to live in peace, dignity, and abundance: universal health care and housing, public jobs programs and cash assistance, and safe working conditions,” the statement reads.
The Nonprofit Professional Employees Union, which represents several hundred workiers at more than 25 civil rights groups and think tank organizations, told the AP it signed onto the union statement because “the fights for workers’ rights, civil rights, and racial justice are inextricably linked.”
The calls for justice include more police accountability; acts that would ban police use of chokehold maneuvers and end qualified immunity for police officers, among other reforms; and the reallocation of police money to address mental health, homelessness and education services in communities.
Meanwhile, police unions have rallied behind President Trump, with the Fraternal Order of Police and New York's influential Police Benevolent Association among numerous state and local unions endorsing the incumbent.
Companies are faced with a “Which side are you on?” moment due to growing support for the BLM movement, said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and a leading organizer in the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of 150 Black-led organizations.
“If I was a decision-maker that was considering whether or not to meet the demands of the unions, I would be scared,” Mitchell said. “This movement is spreading. We’ve been on the streets consistently, we’re building on the electoral front, and now we’re seeing this conversation at the highest levels of labor.”